Coco Makes the Crossover

Coco is Pixar’s 18th full-length feature. Courtesy of Pixar

Latest Pixar film is an instant classic.

You’re going to cry.

But we know that, right? Getting in touch with all the feelings is why we go see Pixar films. Some of us have the protective cover of “kids” as the reason for the price of admission. Like eating a ghost pepper, seeing these pieces of art because we love and crave that special attack on our senses.

Pixar has never shied away from employing waterworks as a movie utility. Their best films (which is most of them) have an iconic tearjerker moment. It’s also been used to imbue humanity into things inanimate, miniscule, or imaginary. Great as that trick is, the better one is to imbue humanity into humans in a world as real and phantasmagoric as the instant-classic Coco.

Set over the upcoming Dia de los Muertos, the film centers on 12-year-old Miguel Riviera who has an undying passion for music in a family that has banned any sort of it in the household. Desperate to play in the town’s talent contest, Miguel resorts to stealing one of his ancestor’s six string in a mausoleum. After incidentally transferring over to the land of the dead, Miguel’s family on both planes of existence try to find him.

The film hits on so many notes it’s surprising that it doesn’t hit a false one. Being of Mexican descent, it was a relief not to see any blatant stereotypes (looking at you Bumblebee Man). The respect and tradition of Dia de los Muertos is not only honored but serves as a major plot device. Sure, “Coco” borrows from Back to the Future, Beetlejuice and the evergreen Prodigal Son director Lee Unkrich, who also avoids any camp, opting to make the afterlife bright and festive. Dia de Muertos and the alebrijes don’t feel heavy-handed as was initially feared. The family tree is a true depiction down to multi-purpose use of zapatos, suffocating familial love, and tamale overdose.

Unkrich is a godsend. The story and the logic behind the film is up to Pixar quality but what sets the director apart from the studio’s gallery of amazing directors are his headfirst dives into humanity. An easy argument could be made for Inside Out, given it’s all about emotions. However, the other emotions were on the backburner until the story needed them. Coco is an exploration on death from start to finish. There are multiple deaths in the story with each having a jarring impact. The unflinching approach that death is also a part of life and something to be celebrated is completely new and innovative to the Pixar canon.

Finally, we have a real contender for the Best Picture category.


JP Spence

JP Spence is a writer, screenwriter, and improviser living in Los Angeles. He previously served as the media critic for the Topanga Messenger and as Editor-In-Chief for the LA Valley Star. You can find Josh @JP_Spence on twitter or at any press screening.

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