The Oscar Project
Pixar has done it again. Coco is a stunning film that delivers fantastic visuals, rousing musical numbers, and a truly emotional story that will bring the family to tears.
The film was nominated for Best Animated Feature as well as Best Original Song, for "Remember Me," winning in both categories and continuing the tradition of Pixar's success at the Oscars over the last thirty years.
At its core, it is a story of the importance of family, and never forgetting where you came from. Being set against the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos gives it an additional pop and lends itself to the beautiful colors and pageantry seen throughout the film.
After Abuelita destroys his homemade guitar, Miguel searches the town for someone to loan him one, only to end up at the cemetery where townspeople are decorating for Día de los Muertos. He breaks into de la Cruz's moseleum and steals the famous guitar which magically transports him to the land of the dead. Miguel meets up with a number of his deceased relatives who try to figure out how to return him to the land of the living before sunrise to prevent him from being stuck in the land if the dead forever.
Meanwhile, Miguel meets a bumbling spirit named Héctor who cannot go visit the land if the living because no one has placed his picture out to be remembered. Miguel discovers that you stay in the land of the dead as long as someone is alive to remember you, but once your memory is gone, you disappear from the land of the dead for good. He agrees to bring back a picture of Héctor so that Héctor can cross the bridge and visit his daughter as long as he helps Miguel find de la Cruz.
With the rest of the family chasing them through the land of the dead, Miguel and Héctor eventually make their way to de la Cruz's party, only to have de la Cruz throw Héctor out when Héctor accuses him of stealing songs. Miguel starts to piece together the story of how Héctor died as the plot of one of de la Cruz's famous films, realizing that de la Cruz poisoned Héctor and claimed Hector's songs as his own.
Héctor and Miguel meet up again in a well where Héctor sings a lullaby he wrote for his daughter. He mentions his daughter's name, Coco, and Miguel showed him the picture of his great-grandma Coco and her parents with the face of the father missing. Héctor confirms that he is the one in the missing corner of the picture and that Miguel is his great great grandson! The urgency increases because Coco is now old herself and beginning to forget her father. As the only one alive with a memory of Héctor, when she dies, he will disappear from the land of the dead and he will never get a chance to see her again.
The rest of the family shows up just in time to save Miguel and Héctor from the well and get them to de la Cruz's sunrise concert. They face him and manage to expose his lies to the audience before sending Miguel back to the land of the living.
Miguel races home to find Coco, alive but unresponsive. He begs her to remember Héctor to no avail. When Abuelita arrives, she tries to stop Miguel but he kneels at Coco's side and sings Hector's lullaby version of "Remember Me." As he sings, Coco awakens from her stupor and pulls the missing corner of the family photo from a nearby drawer as she tells the assembled family that her father used to sing that song when she was a child.
The film ends one year later with Miguel telling his new baby sister about the importance of remembering family members who have passed on and placing their pictures on the ofrenda for Día de los Muertos so they can come visit. In the land of the dead, we see that Coco had passed on but is reunited with her mother and Héctor as they head across the bridge together. They join the living family as Miguel leads everyone in resounding songs.
To simply state that Coco is a stunningly beautiful film is a vast understatement. The visual style created for this film goes above and beyond anything even Pixar has created before. I've seen it several times and each time I notice something new in the colors of the land of the dead.
I've recently begun thinking back through the entire catalog of Pixar feature films from the past two decades and landed on a theme that shows up quite often. The main character(s) in many of these films all end up somewhere they're not supposed to be, due to forces either completely or somewhat out of their control. The plot arc of the films entail them finding a way to get home through the help of key characters along the way.
In Coco, Miguel is transported to the land of the dead when he steals de la Cruz's guitar. Héctor and the family work throughout the film to get him back to the land of the living before sunrise. He picks up an additional task along the way of returning Héctor's photo and his memory back to Coco, but his original mission was to return home himself.
I won't dive too deeply into the details here, but it's no coincidence that this shows up again and again in Pixar films. Toy Story 2 was the first instance, with Woody being whisked off to Al's apartment, followed by Monsters, Inc. where the entire film is set against returning Boo to the human world. Finding Nemo is the most obvious instance of this theme along with Cars. I don't include The Incredibles because while Mr. Incredible is trapped on Syndrome's island, he originally goes there of his own choice. Ratatouille, WALL-E, and Up don't fall into this theme as much. Remy chooses to go into the restaurant, WALL-E chooses to chase after Eve, and Mr. Fredrickson chooses to make his house airborne.
Next up is Toy Story 3, which does fall back into the pattern with the entire group of toys ending up at Sunnyside. They initially think it's a paradise, but quickly find out that's not the case. Cars 2 kind of lines up here, but Mater is put into a role where he doesn't belong rather than a location. Brave is one that hardly sees this theme as well, and Monsters University again features Mike choosing his situation. Where the theme returns once again is Inside Out, where Joy and Sadness are lost in Riley's mind, trying to find their way back to headquarters.
So why did I take this little detour here in an article about Coco? I think it's important to examine what made this a successful film at the core. I think it's safe to say every child thinks about running away from home at least once. Most never act on it, and it's films like these, showing just how crazy things can be in the great big world, that help keep kids from acting on those impulses.
I was a huge fan of The Boxcar Children books when I was young. While I devoured each and every one, I could never imagine living in a boxcar, having to find my own food, walk to and from town to get a job, etc. Stories like those helped teach me that I had things pretty good at home. I got three meals a day, a bus ride to and from school, and friends nearby to play with.
In terms of the film itself, I have been unable to find much fault in it. The music is fantastic, and highlights a style that many American audiences probably don't get enough of. There are just enough twists and turns in the story to keep it interesting and on a first viewing, it's hard not to tear up when Héctor sings "Remember Me" and again when Miguel repeats it to Coco at the very end.
I've said it a few times already, but the visuals are incredible. The entire land of the dead is artfully imagined and filled to every corner with colorful characters. My absolute favorite are the alebrije, or spirit animals, that bring a dazzling brilliance to the screen. The real world settings and characters are just as detailed, with thousands of candles dotting the cemetery and every line and wrinkle visible on Coco's aged face.
I'm just a film buff who wants to watch great movies. Where else to find the best, than the list of those nominated by the Academy each year?