Sometimes I find it difficult to write about a film that I love. The writing tends to turn into a gush-fest about all of the things I loved about it and I find it hard to think critically when I’ve got those rose colored glasses on. Fortunately, here at Ghastly Grinning, we are all about showing the love and spreading positivity, so sit back and relax as I do nothing but gush about this year’s best animated film, Coco.
Coco, the newest film from animation giants Disney's Pixar isn’t just another slapstick animated comedy for kids. It is breathtakingly beautiful, funny at just the right moments, and holds a very important message about life, death, and family. Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3, Finding Nemo) and co-director Adrian Molina (who is making his directorial debut) Coco tells the story of a young boy, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who struggles with pursuing his overwhelming desire to become a musician despite his family’s decades-old ban on music of any kind. After stealing his deceased musical idol’s prized guitar in an attempt to participate in his town’s local talent show at the annual Dia de los Muertos festival, he is transported to the beautiful and vibrant Land of the Dead, where he meets some new friends, old family members, and his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). During his journey, Miguel learns some valuable lessons about the importance of family and what it means to follow your dreams.
Back in 2010, right after the release of Unkrich’s last film Toy Story 3, he pitched an idea for an untitled film that would be set in Mexico during the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. After a seven year long journey, Coco was born and the love, passion, and reverence for the Mexican people, their culture, and the film itself is palpable in every moment of the movie. I think it’s pretty special that a film has managed to pay homage to an entire group of people, making them feel respected and included. It’s incredible that Mexican families living in America, some of which have never had the luxury of seeing a film at the cinema because of the language barrier, can go see a story about their own culture in their very own language, as most theaters are offering showings of the Spanish dubbed version as well as versions with subtitles. Since the film’s release, I’ve read various stories of some individuals’ experiences of going to see the film and each one has brought me to tears for different reasons; like this one where a daughter took her mother to a movie in a cinema for the first time in over thirty years, or this family who took Lee Unkrich’s suggestion of seeing Coco with your entire family quite literally, or this young person who literally may not be here today had they not gone to see Coco on the night of their 26th birthday.
Unkrich and his team took multiple trips to Mexico over the course of production, visiting various towns and getting to know the country’s people, cultures, and traditions, including that of Dia de los Muertos, a day to celebrate and remember ancestors who have passed on. It is believed that if their photos and things that they loved in life are put up on their family’s ritual altar or ofrenda - the Spanish word for offering, then they are able to come back to this world to briefly visit their still-living families. Seems like heavy stuff for an animated movie for kids, right? Heavy indeed. The film really makes you think about our mortality, what it means to be remembered after death, and raises the age old question of whether or not there is life after death. This film does what so many others do not; it looks death and mortality in the face and says it’s okay to be afraid. Death is a thing that every single one of us has dealt with and will continue to deal with, and someday we will all meet our own, but there’s a bit of beauty and comfort in knowing that we are all in it together.
Besides birth, death may be the only human experience that every single one of us eventually has to face, but no one truly knows what happens afterwards. I, for one, hope and pray for a beautiful Land of the Dead not unlike the one we see in Coco, where we have the chance to visit our relatives in life and reunite with all of our loved ones who have also passed on. Death is something that has always paralyzed me with fear and when I stop and think too much about it, I typically send myself into a state of panic that is not easy to return from. Then I see a film like this one and I am reminded of how precious life is, how precious family is, and how incredibly lucky we are that we get to share the beautiful journey of life and death together.
Coco is so important and so special and it is a film I truly believe everyone should see. Not only is it a powerful story that literally every single one of us can relate to in some way, but it is a large-scale, hour and 45 minute-long work of art. The attention to detail in every minute of every scene is astounding. From Miguel’s dimpled cheek, covered in peach fuzz that you only notice when the light hits him just right and the incredibly intricate details in the wrinkles and chin-whiskers of his great-grandmother, to the breathtaking views of the illuminated, kaleidoscope of colors in the Land of the Dead, Coco is artfully crafted through and through. However, the view isn’t the only thing that warrants artistic praise. The soundtrack and score, composed by Michael Giacchino (Inside Out, Cars 3) and written by Robert Lopez (Frozen, Avenue Q), Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen, Winnie the Pooh), Germaine Franco (Walk With Me, Dope), and Adrian Molina, who makes his songwriting debut for a major motion picture with Coco, is something to write home about.
The songs are unique and catchy, while also beautifully capturing the rhythm and feeling of traditional Spanish music. I mean it when I say, I have literally had the soundtrack on repeat since the first time I saw the film, and I get choked up every time I hear a certain song which I will not divulge to avoid spoilers for those who have not yet had a chance to see the film. However, if you are reading this and you have yet to see Coco, I urge you to immediately close your computer or put down your smartphone (or whatever other device on which you may be reading this), find the soonest showtime at your local cinema, and GO SEE THIS FILM.
Coco is now playing in theaters worldwide.