There is a growing (borderline viral) trend in my generation (b. 1989) to blame Disney for instilling over-the-top expectations of love in the hearts and minds of its young audiences. There is always either a prince or a princess, and there is almost always a grand gesture (or a variety of grand gestures) of undying, unconditional love, totally irreplicable in actual society.
Disney is to unrealistic expectations of romance as Pixar is to terrifyingly authentic existential crises. Building on that theme, I would argue that Coco is the deepest, most emotionally and existentially complex film in a string of deeply thoughtful and reflective Pixar movies.
Coco, Pixar’s newest Academy Award Winner for Best Animated Feature*, is the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who, in an act of familial rebellion, leverages La Dia de Los Muertos to travel to the land of the dead and reconnect with his ancestors. Miguel encounters all sorts of characters on this journey, from aimless afterworld drifters like Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to his childhood hero, singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).
Without giving away too much I’ll say that I believe this film to, in a word, perfect. So forgive the bias.
There are certain elements that audience have come to expect from Pixar movies, and Coco wholly delivers on all fronts. The voice work, both in dialogue and in song, is fantastic. The young kid, Anthony Gonzalez, really carries the movie in terms of vocals. But who knew Benjamin Bratt had those kinds of pipes?
On that subject: the music in this movie is so contagious. I see it being nominated for three Academy Awards in the “Best Original Song” category alone**, on top of Michael Giacchino getting a Best Original Score nod. The original songs are short and catchy and (I’d imagine) very listenable even if you haven’t seen the movie.
Pixar has always dazzled with its animation; it’s sort of what put the company on the map. Each Pixar movie breaks new ground in terms of how that animation looks–the water in Finding Dory, for example, is remarkable in and of itself. But generally, the consideration that goes into how the animation serves the film is just as impressive as the technical panache. Coco does a really awesome job of reminding you that the settings of these Pixar movies (maybe not all, but definitely most) are as much a part of the story as anything else. Take Finding Nemo, for example: if that team of filmmakers wasn’t able to create a believable, endless, abysmal underwater world, the themes of hopelessness and fear of the unknown may not have been as powerful.
If there’s one thing this movie instilled in me, it was a strong desire to learn Spanish. There were multiple occasions of my southern California viewing experience where everyone in the audience was laughing at (apparently) obvious Spanglish-centered jokes. I was seriously jealous of this; I was enjoying the movie so much that any detail of it that I wasn’t able to consume, however minute, was upsetting.
Coco is, in many ways, a classic Disney film: in terms of plot structure, musical injection, and hero/villain relationship, it fits the mold. But it still zigs when you think it will zag. Its script is masterfully written; it draws the audience so deeply into the story that we have no time to think about when or how it will end. Like most Pixar, there are enough small twists here and there to obfuscate the larger, more overarching turns in the script. And also like most Pixar, the emotional gut-punch it delivers is simultaneously way out of line and exactly what you needed.
*We’re over 10 weeks from the Oscars, but if you are a gambler, I think this is just about the easiest money you’ll make at the Academy Awards this year.***
**I say this having seen very few other movies in this year’s Oscar season, but here are my guesses in order of least likely to be nominated to most likely:
- “Un Poco Loco”
- “Proud Corazon”
- “Remember Me”*****
***This movie deserves to be nominated for Best Picture, as well. If Toy Story 3 was nominated, this should be, too****
****Don’t get me wrong, I thought Toy Story 3 was one of (if not) the best third movie in a trilogy of all-time, but I think Coco was more complete, evocative, and important.**********This song will win.