We all know how I felt about 'Inside Out', but I also recognize that not everyone is on the same page as I am with it. For those of you who wouldn't necessarily consider 'Inside Out' to be Pixar's resurrection, might I direct your attention to 'Coco'; a Pixar take on Mexican culture, complete with a nice, authentic cast and overall respect for the culture. This film, in particular, focuses on the traditions of Día de Muertos; The Day of the Dead. Before this movie came along, all I really knew about the Day of the Dead was the whole candy skull thing - nothing about them, just that they existed.
With narration from our lead, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), the story begins with a paper cut-out animation, telling of his family's backstory. Miguel's great-great-grandmother, Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was once married to a man whose passion for music made him leave her and their daughter (Miguel's great-grandmother) Mamá Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía) to pursue a career. As a result, all forms of music were banned from the family, and a totally non-musical shoemaking tradition was established instead. The tradition has carried through the generations right down to Miguel, but he actually has a passion for music, idolizing the great Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), and has to play in secret.
On the Day of the Dead, Miguel accidentally knocks over a photo from the family ofrenda (an "offering" consisting of an altar with family photos and other objects for deceased loved ones) representing his great-great-grandmother and great-grandmother alongside a mysterious man with his face ripped from the photo. When he picks it up, he realizes the man is holding de la Cruz's guitar and concludes that he must be related to his idol, and his passion for music over shoemaking suddenly made sense. Against his family's wishes, he runs off to the town square to take part in a talent show - that is until his grandmother finds him and smashes his guitar.
Desperate, Miguel breaks into de la Cruz's mausoleum and steals the guitar to use in the show. However, in doing that disrespectful move, Miguel suddenly finds himself invisible to humanity but perfectly visible to people's dead relatives who have come to visit; their photos on their family ofrendas allowing them passage. He locates his dead relatives right away who take him over a bridge to the Land of the Dead in order to figure out how to break this curse. All it takes is a blessing from a relative, but the conditions would remain that he wouldn't be allowed to play music. Frustrated, Miguel stays and seeks out de la Cruz, knowing that his blessing will allow him to play. He has to do it before sunrise though, or else remain in the land of the dead with the rest of his skeletal relatives (skelatives?)
Helping Miguel out along the way are a faithful stray dog named Dante, and a mystery man named Héctor (Gael García Bernal) who seeks his help in return so he can cross the bridge to visit his daughter. His family didn't put his picture on their ofrenda, so he's denied passage, and through him we learn what happens to the dead once they become forgotten. In many ways, if you were missing that deep-level Pixar mood, this movie has a generous proportion of it. The film does carry a good sense of humour with it, but what I really appreciated about it was how deep it actually got. I really like the idea that the "forgotten" fade away to somewhere the dead have no answer for, equating it to the fact that in life, we don't know what happens when we die.
On top of a cool story, you have a really, really cool setting. If I ever had to pick a favourite Pixar backdrop, it would have to go to the Land of the Dead. If I had to put it in words, I might describe it as a vibrant cityscape that almost looks like a series of treehouses. The whole time Miguel spends in this world is so incredibly dream-like to me that if the film ever brings us back to the real world, it's almost like waking up from a dream. It probably helps that this whole world is loaded with bright, vivid lights and neon-coloured spirit animals that are always very fantastical - Pepita is one badass looking creature. Of course, the film has a lot of heart as well, and much like with 'Up', you'd be hard-pressed not to get a little misty-eyed in the end.
'Coco' would earn Pixar its ninth Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, and the film's music would give it one more for the song 'Remember Me'. One might suggest that in the animated category, its competition wasn't the toughest. But with that said, considering the setting, the animation and the look at Mexican culture and traditions alone, this was definitely my favourite animated title of the year and if I had my own award show, there wouldn't have been a contest. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most beautifully made films in Pixar's library.
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