Worth Living For
One of two things seem to be happening as I am getting older. Either I am getting more emotional as I enter new phases of my life, or Disney just keeps upping their game in terms of the content they deliver. Coco makes me realize that it is a combination of both (but more of the latter), as it delves head first into an enriching story surrounding the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead. But what makes Coco so great is its roots in the themes of family and how important it is to never lose sight of it. This story will undoubtedly be one to remember as Pixar’s great legacy continues.
Aspiring musician Miguel (newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) wants nothing more than to be like one of the greatest musicians of all time: Ernesto De La Cruz. However, his family bans music and views it as a curse on the family despite Miguel’s passion for it. Miguel then begins searching for an independence outside of his family, one where he can freely express himself through music that leads him to the Land of the Dead.
Pixar always excels in crafting compelling and investing characters and Miguel is no exception. His struggle is one that everyone can easily relate to in that he disagrees with the confines his parents have placed around him. Seeing Miguel navigate through these hardships is where the movie’s theme of family shines. Every time that Miguel tries to run away from his family, it goes awry and new challenges present themselves. He deals with them in a range of emotions, all that we forget have to be conveyed through voice work. The expressions animated on the face combined with the excellent voice work by Gonzalez makes Miguel’s struggles feel all the more real.
Miguel’s companion, Hector, (Gael Garcia Bernal) is an equaling complex character that makes the pair worth rooting for. He is charismatic yet holds a lot of insecurities under his exterior. He tries to manipulate his way through certain scenarios, but you see the pain in his expressions and hear the earnest longing in his voice. His character is filled with depth and properly fuels the film’s theme of family in a satisfying way.
While Miguel’s journey is one about his musical self discovery, the ties remain rooted in family. Family has always been a part of Disney films, but in Coco it feels the most real and tangible. Instead of presenting the perfect family or one that is antagonistic, Coco conveys both the upsides and drawbacks. The confines they have placed around Miguel are a little over the top, but you see how this family cares for Miguel and how each family however great they appear to be, has their faults. Parents make decisions for the family that they say benefit the kids, but really it is for themselves. Coco explores this concept to deliver a three dimensional look at the intricacies of our familial ties.
Coco also subtly touches on growing up in a world that has a lot of imperfections. People lie, cheat, and abuse their way to get where they want. But even to that end, the things that may seem constant in your life can fade. It is a realistic view of the world, but one that is presented with heart and sentiment rather than abrasively. It adds to the meaning of the family theme the movie is selling and gives the film an all round authenticity.
It goes without saying that the animation is top notch in this movie. Seriously, Pixar keeps increasing their standards and surpassing them with how real the movie feels. From the open shot of the Land of the Dead to the small details on Miguel’s hair, no detail is missed. It is astonishing and immersive and just adds a dimension to how real this movie feels.
This film embraces the Mexican roots for which Day of the Dead comes from, but it is done with respect and never in a way that is confusing. Certain Spanish words and customs are used and shown, but it is never meant to make the audience feel alien. There are enough clues and context for the audience to deduce what is going on or what is being spoken in Spanish. It adds to the authenticity of the movie that they did not try to “Americanize” the film. The Spanish culture is rich and makes me want to learn more about this famed holiday.
Pixar has once again showed that they rarely do no wrong with Coco. It deliver an exciting narrative driven by its enthusiastic protagonist to keep the audience invested. However, it is the film’s familial themes that propel it to greatness, tugging at your heartstrings and giving a new appreciation for what family means. Its story keeps you invested and every character gets a major payoff that is satisfyingly heartwarming. This is a great family movie that allows you to feel more appreciative of not only where you come from, but where you’re going as well. Make sure to bring some tissues for that ending, because this is one journey you will not soon forget.