Coco may not be Pixar’s most complex movie – see “Inside Out” – nor is it Pixar’s most exhilarating – see “The Incredibles” – but it is rich. Rich in colour and more importantly, rich in culture. I may not be Mexican, but witnessing people of colour on the big screen, in a positive light, without their cultures being watered down or whitewashed (a Hollywood norm), but rather, celebrated, is an awesome experience in and of itself. Donald Trump probably disagrees. If Disney’s “Moana” was a step in the right direction, then “Coco” takes another five steps forward. This gives me hope. Perhaps one day I’ll get to see Disney/Pixar’s bring the Ramayana story to life.
This movie involves the adventures of Miguel – Coco is his great-grandmother – a young Latino who desperately wants to be a musician. His family, as nice as they are, know not of his talent and care not for his passion. Just like the Dursleys in “Harry Potter”, Miguel’s abuelita treats the ‘M’ word like it is the most repulsive and vulgar cuss word in the English dictionary. Except instead of magic, here it refers to music. “The Riveras are shoemakers!” they proudly proclaim. When his abuelita puts her foot down and bans him from indulging in music every again, Miguel chooses to run away from home.
Things happen afterward, that I will not spoil, but the meat of our story takes place during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) when Miguel is magically transported to the Land of the Dead. I find it ironic and perhaps even poetic that it is here, that Miguel feels truly alive. He even gets to perform in front of a crowd, for the very first time. I like movies like these. Stories about finding yourself and being who you are meant to be; tales of passion and art and choices and sacrifice. If only “Coco” stayed focused.
The problem with “Coco” is that co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina fail to keep their eyes on the prize. Or perhaps their eyes were on the wrong prize. It’s as if, in an attempt to celebrate the beauty and wonder of Mexican culture – this movie is GORGEOUS – they forgot about characters and storytelling. The script, penned by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich is loose. It is filled with unnecessary twists and turns that one would be able to sniff out from a mile away.
It could have worked, maybe, had Miguel been a fully realised character, like Marlin or Joy or Woody or Mike Wazowski. But Miguel isn’t layered. He wants to play music and that’s about all there is to his character. In every great Pixar movie, there is a companion who follows our hero on his/her journey. Woody has Buzz Lightyear, Mike Wazowski has James Sullivan, Marlin has Dory, and Joy has Sadness. The dynamic between these duos is what keep us engaged throughout the adventure. Without these iconic pairings, there would be no “Finding Nemo” or “Monsters Inc” or “Toy Story”.
Here, the dynamic is bland. There is very little between Miguel and his skeleton friend Hector. They’re neither funny nor emotionally moving. The dialogues lack wit and weight. The rest of the characters are bland too. The moral of the story – in which you are reminded of every 0.2 seconds – doesn’t exactly hit home, as well. I GET IT but I don’t FEEL it. The score, composed by Michael Giacchino is fitting, but not necessarily memorable. The same can be said about the soundtrack, which is good, but if you’re looking for the next “Let It Go” or “How Far I’ll Go”, you won’t find it here.
I can’t help but compare “Coco” to “The Book of Life”, a 2014 animated film by Fox. That too is about a Latino character who wants to pursue music, despite his family’s wishes. That too, takes place during the Day of the Dead. I left the cinema on that day, feeling shook and broken. I guess the difference between “The Book of Life” and “Coco” is that “The Book of Life” is a movie about its lead character Manolo, but also happens to have a message, and is rich in Mexican culture. Whereas “Coco” is a movie about Mexican culture and a message, that so happens to have a character named Miguel. Big difference, mi amigos.