I will often sleep on a movie before writing about it to clear myself of any immediate emotional reaction and give a truly honest review. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Coco. I knew it was going to be a visual spectacle based on what I’ve seen. I recalled it is themed after the mythos surrounding the Mexican tradition of the Dia de los Muertos, there’s a boy and a guitar… and that was about all I knew. I just hadn’t stayed abreast of the movie. I generally enjoy Pixar’s work (with a few exceptions), but I asserted right after leaving the theater, and still believe as of writing this review, that Coco is Pixar’s best movie yet.
The story centers around Miguel, a boy who is growing up in a family of shoemakers, a tradition passed down through three generations inspired by his great, great grandmother who so hated music that she banned it from her home. Think Rev. Moore from Footloose, except with a little less depressing motivation. No, she was so angered by her husband leaving the family to pursue his career in music that she decided it was never to be part of her home. She raised her daughter to pass down this hatred of the art and it had worked for years, only now there is a problem; Miguel is not just a lover of music, but an aspiring musician himself, driven by his love for classical Mexican actor and singer Ernesto de la Cruz.
All that is the setup and what happens from there is both insane and inspiring. To make a long story short, Miguel needs a guitar to enter a talent show and out of last-minute desperation, he steals the guitar from the tomb of his favorite actor believing he is the star’s heir and a as a result, he becomes cursed. He is trapped in the world of the dead on the Day of the Dead and while he can see his family, they cannot see him. He crosses over into the afterlife being the only living person in a massive city that spans miles and miles and towers into the sky. Here he must receive a blessing from a family member to return home. He teams up with a lowly, nearly forgotten spirit who is desperately trying to connect with the other side before he fades away for good, and thus begins their adventure.
Coco is about family, tradition, defiance and forgiveness. It is, hands down, the most heartwarming, well-crafted story in Pixar’s repertoire There was an inspiration here; I do not know what it is for certain, but there was a drive in Coco that surpassed the cynicism of modern movies and delivered a beautiful, powerful and moving adventure that is actually for everyone. Unlike most modern family movies that still lean more towards the kids, this is a film that really should be passed down as a timeless classic alongside The Goonies, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (and yes; I am saying it’s as good as those movies). In fact, I think I would say Coco is the best movie of 2017 and possibly the best movie so far this decade.
Everything you see is crafted with care. The little touches of light, the subtle facial movements, the voices, the traditional style that mimics classic films by directors like John Houston and Michael Curtiz, and just the modernized-but-still-classic story. The arc is painted perfectly and while I did see a few of the beats coming, when it all comes together it is a satisfying, albeit a little contrived, conclusion.
Coco’s animation is crafted with such astonishing detail that it makes one wonder how what they did was even possible. Every piece of fabric is tactile, it’s textures are drawn threat-by-thread, the one moment where water really makes an appearance is so convincing that it feels almost too real. Each character could have been rendered as flat, cartoonish caricatures but instead have fine details around the face giving that traditionally-Disney style a dramatic makeover that can probably only truly be appreciated on the big screen. Every wrinkle, hair and fold of fabric moves, adding a dynamic and naturalistic visual tone to the every scene. Even the dead, with their painted skulls, are not simply colored patterns painted on white, animated bones, but the bones themselves have texture, variations in color, and the paint is rough along the surface of each face, as though it wasn’t just slapped onto a piece of plastic. All of these seemingly-minor details add depth and further meaning to the world.
While Coco is not technically an animated musical, it is about music, so there are a few songs here and there where characters perform in front of crowds, on stage or even just for one another in lovely character moments. I play guitar casually, so I can tell you that each chord, movement of the hand and pluck of each string is unbelievably masterful in its execution. The moments of bombast in the few big song numbers are reminiscent of old westerns and the classics of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema.
See Coco. See it in theaters. See it where it counts because this will not be the same on Blu-ray, even if you are sporting a 72” 4K monstrosity in your living room. That is not what this sort of movie is made for. This is a theatrical film through and through, and everyone should be in the seats. Coco topped the box office this opening weekend and appears to be on track to become one of Pixar’s big successes, and it deserves every penny.