Coco: Pixar's Finest Achievement Since Toy Story 3

Updated on December 6, 2017
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Rami has a BA in psychology from the American University of Beirut and an MS in addiction counseling from Grand Canyon University.

Dios Mío, who in God’s name was chopping onions in my theater? If an animated film made you ever so slightly indignant that no tissues were offered to moviegoers at the door prior to showtime, then the film must’ve done something right. By “something right” I do not speak of labored emotional manipulation of young audiences, I speak of virtuoso, thematically potent storytelling that treats cinema fans with copious quantities of respect. Coco is quite possibly Pixar’s greatest triumph since Toy Story 3 and you’d all be doing yourselves a grave disservice by not taking some time out of your day to witness this delightful piece of work.

Despite a family ban on music, 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) has an unbridled passion for it and idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a widely venerated deceased musician. The ban stems from his great-great abuela Imelda (Alanna Ubach) who was abandoned by her musician husband and left to raise her daughter by her lonesome. Determined to prove his prowess in a local talent show on Dia de los Muertos, Miguel steals de la Cruz’s guitar and ends up being flung into the Land of the Dead where he meets his ancestors and an amiable swindler named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal). With only till dawn to leave the Land with a family blessing or be trapped forever, Imelda offers to send Miguel home. However, Miguel instead pursues Ernesto de la Cruz in the belief that he shares an extraordinary connection with him.

Words on their own cannot convey the sheer relief I am experiencing on account of the direction that the story took. No tired “follow your dreams” claptrap for this guy, no siree bob. Thanks to a splendidly authored, multilayered script, fully defined protagonists, and a complex but entirely coherent plot laden with surprises both pleasant and the opposite, Coco tells one hell of a coming-of-age tale steeped in Mexican culture. As human beings we give a colossal volume of reverence to luminaries and brilliant minds; their contributions to the world leaving behind an unwavering legacy that practically serves as an impetus for passionate, highly ambitious artists worldwide. I believe Coco asks viewers to make a juxtaposition of this fact with family, as this film’s linchpin is a heartwarming moral about the significance of keeping our loved ones in remembrance long after they’ve croaked and passing on their tales for generations to come. As Jon Negroni of Relevant Magazine puts it, this particular message affiliates itself quite well with the cultural tenets of the Mexican holiday that is Dia de los Muertos. Coco is a cautionary fable about the hazards of being overly ambitious and driven solely by personal desire. It profoundly critiques the cliché of pursuing your dreams at any cost within the framework of a lasting impact that our choices have on others (thanks again Jon Negroni). This is how you make an animated film that moviegoers from all walks of life can appreciate, job well done Pixar.

It appears that the sky is the limit with Pixar as every triumph they conjure up proves to be an even more spellbinding encounter in the aesthetic department than its predecessor; I daresay that “Coco” just might supplant “Inside Out” in that regard. The animation team’s unmitigated attentiveness to detail is a staggering feat of precision work, signifying the perpetual trek towards non-live-action perfection since the advent of CGI. The Land of the Dead is an interminably effervescent metropolis, ever-so mounting in scope and constructed as if from the gray matters of a thousand brilliant architects under the influence of psychedelics endorsed by Jim Morrison himself. The rather dim background is supplemented by the vivid, ebullient luminosity of the conurbation’s lights, giving the impression of an unremitting nighttime shindig; a never ending amalgam of spirited merrymaking and placid relaxation with loved ones.

As a gentleman of Lebanese origin this connected with me on a personal level. Like Mexico, Lebanese culture revolves around family. Some of the greater nights of my life spent with friends and family took place in the vigor-laden confines of the capital Beirut and the serenity of Faraya, a town situated on the mountains overlooking the city. The Land of the Dead is pretty much how I imagined an urban afterlife with those I hold dear to me would look like, so everlasting kudos to the guys at Pixar for giving it the dazzling grandeur it so rightly deserved.

Gems like Coco are the reason my faith in animated films remains unscathed despite an increase in pretty but rather shallow pieces of animation over the years. Pixar, Hayao Miyazaki and the lot; their characters, thematic work, and storytelling acumen for the most part radiate as incandescently as the stunning visuals accompanying the aforementioned crucial elements of filmmaking. Coco is a cohesive, hilarious, heartfelt, and all-around sincere and passionate masterwork that can confidently be placed in the top tier of Pixar’s filmography. To my friends and family, Coco has the Rami Nawfal stamp of approval. So please, drag yourselves to the theater if you have to; I’m already cheesed off that some of you have not taken the time to witness the magnificence that is Blade Runner 2049 in the cinema where it deserves to be seen.

My score: 9/10

© 2017 Rami Nawfal

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