‘Coco’ expertly plucks heartstrings



The new Pixar film “Coco” has received critical acclaim and currently carries a 96 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

CLINTON OLSASKY, Executive Editor | [email protected]

Inspired by the Mexican holiday the Day of the Dead (more commonly referred to by its Spanish name of “El Dia de los Muertos”), the new Pixar animated film “Coco” may be one of the heralded studio’s most visually resplendent and emotionally affecting movies to date.

The film centers on the story of Miguel, a young boy with musical aspirations who finds himself in the Land of the Dead, where he must seek the assistance of his ancestors to return to the living.

Thanks to some eye-popping animation, a heartwarming story and a refreshing take on a cinematically underrepresented culture, “Coco” is truly one of the most pleasant surprises of the year.

Directing: 5/5

“Coco” is directed by longtime Pixar member Lee Unkrich (“Monsters, Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “Toy Story 3”), and Unkrich’s extensive experience in the director’s chair is evident from the beautiful animation and meticulously crafted compositions that characterize the film.

From the outset, “Coco” strives to differentiate itself from the 18 other Pixar feature films churned out by the animation titan. The opening scene itself features a series of paper cut-outs recounting a visually simplified but emotionally stirring history of Miguel’s family.

As for the rest of the film, “Coco” benefits from a bright and warm color palette, with a heavy emphasis on oranges and blues. The Land of the Dead is particularly impressive, as the brightly-lit and sprawling cityscape ironically makes the screen come to life with vivacity and verve.

Lastly, special attention should be given to the music featured in the film, which ranges from catchy and upbeat to somber and moving. All the while, the songs and dances depicted in “Coco” consistently feel authentic to Mexican culture and, as a result, pay proper respect to the cultural heritage that served as inspiration.

Writing: 4/5

Speaking of cultural representation, the familial storyline at the center of “Coco” also comes across as genuine and respectful. Without a doubt, the film’s strongest asset is its heart, which seems to swell more and more as the film progresses.

There will come a point in the movie in which you might find yourself crying unexpectedly and even uncontrollably. To be sure, much of the film’s emotional strength stems from an emphasis on family, as well as on youth, innocence, loss, mourning and acceptance.

Indeed, “Coco” succeeds in delivering an incredibly touching message of familial love that can be universally felt, regardless of culture.

With that being said, “Coco” does suffer from some minor pacing issues, mainly during the first half of the film. In fact, the entire first act all too often falls into genre conventions and predictable narrative beats.

However, the often rushed and formulaic nature of the film’s first half is more than worth it for what turns out to be one of the most perfectly executed finales Pixar has ever produced.

Acting: 5/5

Another one of the film’s many assets is its ensemble cast of extremely talented voice actors, all of whom lend considerable emotional depth and complexity to their respective roles.

Among the many standouts in the cast is newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, the child actor who voices Miguel, the film’s central protagonist. Although young and inexperienced, Gonzalez’s performance comes across as completely natural, as the fledgling voice actor injects real vulnerability and empathy into his portrayal of the aspiring musician.

Gael Garcia Bernal also deserves particular praise as Hector, a deceptive and mysterious skeleton in the Land of the Dead. Bernal, who has been previously featured in such critically acclaimed films as “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “The Motorcycle Diaries” and “Babel,” makes his prior acting experience evident through a deft blend of charm and warmth.

Alanna Ubach is also excellent as Mama Imelda Rivera, the deceased matriarch of Miguel’s family that now resides in the Land of the Dead. Ubach brings an undeniable charisma to her character, especially in the musical scenes that highlight the actress’s impressive vocal range.

Overall: 4.5/5

Once again, Pixar hits it out of the park, with its latest release offering an incredibly touching story of familial love that also shines a necessary spotlight on an admittedly overlooked cultural tradition.

Although “Coco” does benefit from dazzling visuals, stirring music and a strong ensemble cast of talented voice actors, the film’s greatest triumph is undoubtedly its emotional core.

And appropriately enough, this inspiring tale of a young musician struggling to find success succeeds on nearly every level, especially when it comes to plucking at your heartstrings.