Pixar Animation Studios

After a year of largely underwhelming and unoriginal animated features, Pixar has come to the rescue with their second film of the year, “Coco.”

The story focuses on a young Mexican boy named Miguel who, despite living in a family of shoemakers that despise music, dreams of becoming a musician and being like his idol, the late, famous musician Ernesto De La Cruz.

However, after an unexpected mistake, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead on the night of Dia De Muertos (Day of the Dead) where he makes a deal with a swindling skeleton named Hector and must now find De La Cruz to get his blessings to return to the real world before the holiday ends.

This is easily the strongest Pixar film since 2015’s “Inside Out.” Every element of it screams classic Pixar from beginning to end, but contains enough new stuff to make the experience refreshing. Without a doubt, the two biggest elements that help this entry stand out from the studio’s catalog are its world building and cultural aspects.

The team at Pixar has left no stone unturned when it came to researching the Mexican culture and the Day of the Dead holiday. Every element of clothing, architecture, dialogue and design helps add to the overall atmosphere Miguel’s hometown, making the audience feel right there with our characters.

Likewise, the world-building for the Land of the Dead and the contrast it has with the real world is probably the strongest aspect of the film. From the moment we enter this realm, we get an idea of how the society works and how the world and its inhabitants relate to the Day of the Dead. Much like last year’s “Moana,” a lot of this world-building moves the story, but here the execution is arguably better.

This film is a complete feast for the eyes. The design of the worlds, characters and creatures have clear inspiration from Mexican artwork and the film’s color palette is some of Pixar’s most vibrant yet, complementing these designs perfectly. Additionally, the character animation is astounding, especially with the massively detailed work put into the skeletons. They contain the right balance of appeal, energy, cartoonish animation and believability.

The cast is as great as any Pixar film could be with every character feeling like a flawed human being, but still coming off as lovable. Miguel, especially, could have easily come off as a very annoying or unlikable character, but thanks to his strong motivations and innocence, grows to be very sympathetic by the end. Hector could have easily been another comic relief or side character, but the way he ends up tying into the story is ultimately where a lot of the emotional resonance occurs.

Finally, while this film is not a true musical even though music plays such a strong part in the story, it is worth mentioning that the collection of songs performed here are fantastic. The song “Remember Me” in particular ends up meaning a lot to the film’s overall message and plays a major role towards the end that adds a lot to the emotional punch.

“Coco” proves that even nearly 20 feature films into their history, Pixar is still capable of capturing our hearts and captivating our imaginations with yet another masterpiece. Despite a few predictable moments here and there within its structure, “Coco” is a refreshing and beautiful animated film that is a love letter to Mexican culture, Day of the Dead, family and learning to remember those that are closest to us in life and death. The entire film features some of Pixar’s finest animation, most developed characters and wonderful songs. In an age where originality on the big screen is hard to find, “Coco” is a reminder of how far research, love and passion can go to create an unforgettable experience.

 

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