Pixar’s 19th feature animated film “Coco” hit cinemas late October in Mexico and audience reactions were outstandingly positive. It quickly became the #1 film in the country because of its beautiful representation of Mexican heritage, and it was very much needed specially during the current political climate in which President Donald Trump targets Mexicans as being rapists and drug dealers. Now that it has debuted in the United States this past Wednesday, I could understand why this Disney Pixar masterpiece, directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, won over people’s hearts.
Not only was this the best Pixar film since “Toy Story 3” but it has also changed Disney Pixar history in my opinion because it is the first Pixar title to focus specifically on one culture. Now although it centers around one culture, the storyline is relatable to anyone who has ever felt hopeless when chasing their dreams.
The story follows Miguel Rivera, voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, a 12-year-old who dreams of becoming a musician. Miguel’s rebellious love of music gets him into a pickle when he accidentally gets submerged into the Land of the Dead where he meets a trickster musician named Hector, voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal.
They embark on a journey in the very vibrant and picturesque afterlife. On their journey they learn the real story behind Miguel’s family history and why he feels such a strong connection to music, although it is banned by his family.
The cultural consultants of this film did an excellent job projecting the beautiful traditions that Día de Los Muertos is known for.The most prominent tradition involves visiting loved ones at the cemetery but because Mexico is a massive country, the way the holiday is celebrated differs within each city.
Recently the celebration has grown within Mexico into the massive event we know today, complete with parades, music festivals, art shows and altars. Yet this holiday, no matter how it is celebrated, has always been very full of life and color. Some like to call it the “Mexican Halloween,” but it is nothing like it. Mexican culture celebrates life and family, so although there are various forms of celebrating our beloved ancestors, “Coco’s” portrayal of the celebration did the overall message of Dia de Los Muertos justice. It shows that the importance of family bonds is that they tie us to the generations that came before us, which help us better understand the true meaning of “family comes first.”
The photorealism Pixar is known for was incredibly realistic, so much so that during the film I kept having to remind myself that it was all animation. Some of the amazing animation objects that blew my mind were the tequila-filled cups, beautiful flowing water and out of this world architecture that showed the immense attention to detail.
For instance, when Miguel enters the Land of the Dead he walks a path of illuminating cempasuchil and the glow of the flowers was very soothing because of the CGI perfection.The animators also redrew the hill of the Land of the Dead a handful of times to be able to display an accurate representation of cities in Mexico. The Land of the Dead, as explained by animators in the short before the film, was redrawn several times to get every detail.
Character development was very well formed. I left the cinema loving the characters as if they were part of my family. I felt like this film represented my Mexican culture and our ideals but mostly I’m glad that a company as huge as Disney took the time to take “Coco” into production.
The animation for the characters was very unique from other films in the Disney franchise. The facial expressions, characteristics and body shapes were unlike those we have seen in films like “Frozen,” “Toy Story”and “Up.”
Miguel’s family, the Riveras, did not fall under the category of ordinary CGI– everyone in the family had a different face structure that really molded their persona according to age and interests.
Skeletons in the film dominated with their facial design. Their faces hinted at Mexican sugar skull designs while still having human characteristics present, like big cheek bones and elongated head structures, beards, eyebrows, hair and accessories. This film went out of its way to add Mexican easter eggs as well.
Aside from the Pizza Planet Truck, Nemo, Woody, Mike Wazowski and The Incredibles 2 easter egg, this film included appearances by famous Mexican celebrities who have passed away. Some celebrities included Jorge Negrete, Mario Moreno ‘Cantinflas’,Pancho Villa, Maria Felix, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Pedro Infante and many more.
Stakes were very high in the movie which made it even more emotional. Pixar has never done a musical before but this film did a great job with song transitions without creating awkward asides. The music felt very authentic. I admired that the protagonist of the film was voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, who has been singing in a mariachi since he was young. Mariachi music and the melodies of Mexican folklore are very meaningful and represent the love and importance of music within Mexican culture. This is emphasized when Ernesto De La Cruz, famous musician who resides in the Land of the Dead, said “do not underestimate the power of music.”
The only flaw in the film was an unrealistic depiction of norteño music. In the film, there is a band by the name of “Los Chachalacos” who live in the Land of the Dead and their music is nothing like the real norteño music. They sounded more like a marching band as opposed to the norteño music with the fast tempo and usual accordion.
I know for a fact that marching bands do not wear norteño outfits, so I would have loved for Disney to debut a real Mexican band to play in the soundtrack. At least the Disney Pixar Co. is making progress by incorporating attention to detail in other cultures. I rate this an ‘A’ movie.