Animation is a platform for boundless imagination. Pixar’s maximization of that platform rocketed them to the top, until they lost it. But with Inside Out, the studio began to regain its form. And with Coco, the studio continues that return — at least for its original ideas.
The film is steeped in Mexican culture, and not just as representation for representation’s sake. The intricacies of its culture are deeply felt on a visual, auditory and thematic level. Traditions and family dynamics that sprout from those traditions are integral to the progression of the plot. Dialogue consists of both English and Spanish, the latter not being subtitled nor placed on any level of less importance than the English. Each frame pops with wonderful colors in costumes, festive decorations and more. Michael Giacchino’s score uses instruments and style that come from the culture to create swells that enhance emotional moments. Like Moana before it, Coco shows that, when researched and executed on all levels, culture and its representation can be beyond profound.
But while Coco’s characters, especially Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) and Héctor (Gael García Bernal), are well-defined, the film’s narrative isn’t quite as refined, and thus as intricately affecting, as Pixar’s best outings. Much of the middle of the film is predicated on convenience and obstacles rather than true conflict, stifling the energy of even the wondrous visuals. And the themes of family, death and forgiveness are intertwined, evident and developed — but only so much so. Miguel’s initial goals are, naively and innocently so because of his young age, misguided and ignore the specific importance of the women in his family. While Miguel learns a lot that allows him to appreciate family, he’s not afforded the deeper lessons that hold the men of the film as accountable as they can be held.
However, Coco does hit emotional highs that can compare to even Toy Story 3. In its last 30 minutes, while not as deeply mined as it could be, the film does enough with its central family and their culture to push even the hardest shelled people to tears. It’s trademark Pixar, constructing a build of emotions that provoke such a response because we care.
Featured image via Pixar.
Note: We at MovieMinis denounce the alleged sexual harassment of Pixar’s now ex-executive John Lasseter. His significance in the creation of Pixar and its films is undeniable and we would be remiss not to acknowledge that. We do believe that, with ‘Coco’ specifically, which Lasseter produced but did not direct, and with animation in general, because there are so many brains behind the creation of a film and even the creation of a single frame, to write it all off because of one man would be irresponsible, especially when it’s doing such important cultural work like ‘Coco’ is. However, we would also be remiss not to acknowledge that Pixar films have a glaring problem with how they depict women both in the animation of their bodies and through their roles in the stories, which likely stems from the fact that they’ve only hired one woman to co-direct one of their films and the understanding that, with a man like Lasseter in power, women were and are excluded from or feel unsafe in being a part of important conversations and stages of development that they should be involved in. Overall, we would like to extend our support to the victims of Lasseter’s alleged abuse and make sure that this discussion is had where it must be.