In 2006, The Walt Disney Company purchased PIXAR to the tune of $7.4 billion (wish I had that much in my bank account). At the time, there wasn’t much to be worried about. That wasn’t until Meet the Robinsons that I could tell that something was off. Especially with Frozen, where the influence of both studios were strongly felt to me. Until the Disney Animation Studios logo popped up at the end of the film, I actually forgot that I wasn’t watching a PIXAR film.
With Coco, I am very sad to report that if I wasn’t constantly reminding myself throughout the film that this was a PIXAR film, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who produced this film and who distributed it.
Despite his family’s generations-old ban on music, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. After meeting a charming trickster named Héctor (Gael García Bernal), the two new friends embark on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
While I may see Coco as a Disney Animation Studios as well as a PIXAR film, that isn’t always a bad thing. PIXAR borrows the tropes from Disney Animation Studios like the buddy movie that came from Zootopia and the rich culture from those who are no longer with us from Moana. What PIXAR brings to the table is the heart of all of those things. PIXAR could’ve cut corners and made Coco a straight up musical, but instead directors Lee Unkrich and Andrew Molina chose to instead let you sit in those feelings so that when the finale comes, you can better understand why the characters that set the film’s events into motion react the way they do.
What Coco does turn to is the most disappointing of choices: tropes that make the movie groan-inducing at points. Stuff like a lingering shot, a family of jerks (at least from what we see) and so much more. These moments drag down the film and pull you out of the world you were immersed in just moments ago. At multiple points in the film, I was sitting in the theater auditorium shaking my head at the obvious setups that this film provides. For a film about respecting the dead and following your dreams, it sure does seem to want to make sure you know just how much Miguel needs to change to get to the film’s finale.
Like the previously mentioned Moana, Coco does an excellent job of understanding the inherent culture behind Dia de los Muertos. Over the course of the film, you get a glimpse into the minutiae of the holiday. Setting out their favorite foods, leaving flowers to guide them home, etc. There’s no sense here that anyone involved in the making of the film had anything other than respect for Mexican culture and that’s so refreshing in a day and age where a live-action Aladdin remake has to “brown up” extras.
Coco is certainly a film that will inspire debate after everyone gets the chance to see it. Most of the people I talk to say “it’s top-tier PIXAR”, but I also hear people saying that some of the smaller things within the film turned them off of the film. PIXAR is may not be delivering, but it’s clear the studio is getting back on track with the help of their big wig friends.