One Liner Review:
Another Pixar success story, this one is like Moana meets the Wizard of Oz, about an escape to another world, even if it means defying the older generation, in order to find yourself.
Coco happens to be one of the better Pixar movies. That’s an amazing accomplishment when you think about how great this studio has been. Toy Story, Inside Out, Up, The Incredibles, Monster’s Inc. But what makes Coco so special is it’s story. This thing takes us into other worlds, gives us a mission, and then unfolds into a mystery. It just keeps going, digging deeper and deeper into its elaborate plot. And the movie looks fantastic. It is absolutely one of the most colorful and most beautiful of any of these computer animated movies. It’s this and Moana as the two best looking of these movies. But the look of the film can only get you so far, and what is really amazing about Coco is that story. It takes out main character, Miguel, from the world of the living into the world of the dead, where he must learn to play by all different rules as he tries to track down the man who he believes to be his great great grandfather. In doing so, however, he ends up revealing a whole big mystery and set of secrets. It’s a pretty elaborate and intense film.
Coco is a fantastic movie. For Disney / Pixar that is no surprise. These guys are on such a roll right now, that it nearly rivals what they did in the early nineties (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King.) The recent track record here includes movies like Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, Moana, and now Coco. And the funny thing is that these movies often don’t look like they will be that great. Moana seemed like it would just be about a girl on an island sailing out to sea. It turned out to be about spirits and adventure. And Coco, which looked like it would be all about the Day of the Dead, turned out to be a mystery involving visiting the world of the dead.
Most of the movie actually takes place the in this world, but the film wisely takes its time to get there. There’s just so much that needs to be setup and established first, and the movie knows how confusing things can get here (with a ton of characters for us to meet in both the world of the living and the world of the dead,) if not handled properly. Let’s put it this way… in the world of the living we meet Miguel, his parents, his grandmother (his Abuelita,) his great grandmother, Coco, and his two older cousins. In the world of the dead, we meet Miguel’s great grandmother and her other children, as well as a ton of other characters.
The opening is about how Miguel loves music, but his family hates it. And it’s all because of this musician who once walked out on his great great grandmother (Coco’s mother,) and left her alone to raise Coco. We learn this story in the very first moments of the film, as it is told on Mexican hanging paper art, (the colorful kinds you often see hanging in Mexican restaurants.) Here, the art comes to life as a sort of moving tapestry kind of situation, to tell us that story. And then we see how much Miguel’s Abuelita hates music and yells at anyone she comes across who is ever playing music or singing.
Miguel and his family have a business involving shoes. He shines them and his family makes them. While singing does for a man who plays guitar one day (a mariachi,) Miguel gets the idea to perform in an open mike night in the center of the town. Right away his Abuelita catches him and puts a stop to this. But then during the day of the dead, something happens. Miguel’s dog gets into mischief around the afrenda, (the long table that has photographs of all the dead relatives, in picture frames. The dog knocks over one of the pictures of Coco, her mother, and her father. In the photo, the head of the father is cut off, but when the photo falls on the floor, Miguel is able to unfold it to reveal something.
The man in the photo is holding the same guitar as a music legend, a man named Ernesto Del La Cruz. This guy was such a god of the guitar that there is a huge statue of him standing in the town square, and everybody talks about him. Miguel is Del La Cruz’s biggest fan, watching all of his movies, memorizing the lines, and even playing the guitar alongside Del La Crux playing it, in his movies. There’s only one problem. Del La Cruz is dead. And now, when the photo gets knocked over and Miguel unfolds it he sees that the guitar his great great grandfather was holding was actually Del La Cruz’s guitar. He now thinks that his great great grandfather was indeed Del La Cruz.
This inspires Miguel to think he has finally found the thing that will make his Abuelita and parents accept music. They always say you need to respect and take after your relatives and that’s exactly what he’s trying to do. So he brings out his guitar and shows them his collection of Del La Cruz materials. Turns out he’s wrong, and his Abuelita ends up smashing the guitar to pieces. This causes Miguel to run away and desperately seek out a guitar to play during the open mic night. He looks to the grave of Del La Cruz, inside a masoleum, and steals the guitar off a wall. No sooner does he do this, however, do the leaves turns a bright glowing orange. Security rushes into the building and walks right through Miguel. He leaves the mausoleum and walks out into the cemetery and nobody can see him. That’s when Miguel falls into an open grave.
A woman extends a hand to him, to help Miguel out and when Miguel pops out of the grave he sees that the woman is a skeleton. In fact, everyone around him is a skeleton, and they are all just as shocked to see him, a living boy, as he is to see them. And these people recognize Miguel pretty early on, and know exactly who he is. That’s some artistic license right there, to believe that these characters were all alive once at the same time as Miguel, and recently enough to recognize him. But they do, and some immediate problems come out of this. First, Miguel isn’t supposed to be here. He never died. And second, his great great grandmother, Mama Imelda, is unable to cross over to visit her living relatives and leave the land of the dead.
That’s something which is established here. There’s a bridge which leaves the land of the dead and brings the skeletons into the graveyard of the living, where the skeletons can exist alongside their relatives and visit, (without the relatives, who are alive, knowing that they are actually there, beside them.) Only to leave the land of the dead and go on this visit, you need to have your picture on somebody’s afrenda. And since Miguel’s dog knocked the photo of Mama Imelda off the afrenda and Miguel never put it back up, she can’t cross over.
So the group of skeletons, which now includes Miguel, goes to find Mama Imelda, and get her blessing so that Miguel can go back to the living. Only she adds something to the blessing. A rule that Miguel can never play music again. Miguel doesn’t accept this and runs away. He has a plan. If he can find Ernesto Del La Cruz, here, in the land of the dead, (who he believes is his great grandfather,) then he can get Del La Cruz’s blessing, play music all he wants, and return to the land of the living, (not to mention, getting to meet his idol.) This means that Miguel’s mission becomes to find Del La Cruz. He gets a guy named Hector to help him under the condition that when Miguel returns to the land of the living, he will put Hector’s picture on an afrenda, so that Hector may cross over and leave the land of the dead.
If the first act of the movie is about Miguel in the land of the living, and the second act is about him in the land of the dead with his diseased relatives, then the third and longest act is his mission. He has to find and speak with Del La Cruz. The mission takes him to all sorts of places including the rehearsal building for a show Del La Cruz will be doing, (where Miguel gets a preview of the sets,) a music contest where Miguel performs, knowing that the winner will get an invite to Del La Cruz’s party, and then the party itself. And all of this leads to a mystery that we didn’t even know was there, involving murder and betrayal. It’s an elaborate tapestry of a story that keeps unfolding into new and unpredictable avenues. And it all looks fantastic. The colors here are beyond beautiful. They pretty much rival those of Moana, making these two movies the best looking of all the Pixar films. The movie turns out to be a monster success with a pretty incredible story. For Pixar, none of this should come as any surprise. The studio has done it again!