- Product Rating -

Coco

| December 19, 2017

The ubiquity of Pixar (upixiquity?) is a blessing and a curse for me. On one hand, we have a studio churning out some of the most technically wonderful and successful animated films, proving the critical and financial viability of the medium. On the other hand, we have a studio whose near-unabashed success allows for repetition, because safety sells. In my eyes, Coco marks a conflation of these two scenarios, using a tried-and-true formula to act as a love letter to Mexican culture and not a whole lot else. As I walked out of the theater, I noticed that it’s kind of the same movie as 2012’s Brave, kind of like the inverse of how Avatar really is the same movie as Pocahontas.

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is a young aspiring musician who is fueled by his love for music and his admiration for superstar Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who he early on learns is his late great-great-grandfather. With his family’s generations-long ban on music due to their resentment of de la Cruz and a general oppression of Miguel’s dreams from his grandmother (Renée Victor), he travels the Land of the Dead during Día de los Muertos in order to track down his idol. Along the way, he comes across the spirits of the deceased, namely a con artist named Héctor Rivera (Gael García Bernal)—who’s trying to get back to the Land of the Living—and a multitude of family members that have passed years earlier.

With the reluctance to appreciate or even go so far as acknowledge Mexican culture in American media, Coco immediately positions itself as, at the very least, being admirable in its honesty. In fact, if Coco were to be described in one word, it would be honest. Like a vast majority of Pixar films, it’s gorgeous to look at and boasts some of the best animation around—similar compliments go without saying. It has an often-infectious aura of innocence and good intentions especially so given its acting as a love letter to the culture of its characters and locales. The script from Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich provides for the accessible humor audiences know, expect, and invite, but it also injects some dark humor that’s relevant to the material and its themes. The strongest aspects of Coco are its discussions of legacy—the idea that one truly dies once the last person that knows them passes away. There’s a sense of existentialism and inevitability that lay within the film, in spite of and thanks to its child-friendly demeanor.

These aspects to the film are what make the end result to be disappointing in its overall averageness. For every moment or two that I was drawn to the filmmakers’ willingness to explore such ideas and the celebrate the culture at the movie’s core, there was a moment that I was distracted by the Pixar formula of recent years that drives Coco to the finish line; it fits snugly within the pantheon of the studio’s work of the 2010s. Relationships between ambitious children and overbearing parents, arcs regarding finding one’s identity, and the beats that are can be seen as manipulative are quite plentiful. The plotting on display here is a bit messy at times, often times utilizing expositional dialogue, plot contrivances, and a deus ex machina or two for the sake of keeping things on track. It’s maddening in some ways, as if the suits at Pixar found so much as focusing on non-Anglo-Saxon traditions to be different enough, therefore using the same formula to comfort mainstream audiences.

It can be beguiling and disappointing, unique and familiar, a step forward and a refusal for the studio to shift its stance. Its cultural earnestness is what works the most, and it’s something to be grateful for in hopes that it sets a precedent of art being more reflective of the whole of reality instead of just selected portions. It’s easy to understand why Coco works for so many people and that’s an opinion that’s hard to negate. It just so happens to be a movie that goes a discernible distance but nothing farther than that—unique, but not unique enough.

About the Author:

Senior year film student at Columbia College Chicago, Hollywood Film Festival pre-screener, and Best Social Media Presence for North Farmington High School's 2014 senior mock elections. Firmly believes that ".gif" is pronounced "jiff".
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