Coco is a film set around the Mexican Day of the Dead. It has a number of similarities to the earlier-released The Book of Life (2014), which also featured a venture into the afterlife on the Day of the Dead and a young hero who wanted to defy his chosen profession and become a musician. Director Lee Unkrich (who has no Mexican background) states how he initially wanted to make a film about a white kid discovering Mexican culture. Perhaps mindful of how much of an angry uprising there has been against the issue of whitewashing rewriting ethnic roles with white Hollywood actors cultural appropriation and white saviour tropes in recent years Disneys appalling treatment of Polynesian culture in the recent Moana (2016) is an example that immediately comes to mind Pixar discarded this approach. Instead they went with a wholly Mexican-centred production, right down to every single member of the voice cast being Mexican (something that The Book of Life, which did have a Mexican director, never actually did) and employing Mexican-American Pixar employee Adrian Molina as co-director. As Wikipedia notes, this makes Coco the biggest budgeted all-Mexican cast film ever made. I am not Mexican and so do not feel qualified to the extent to which Coco pays respect to Mexican culture or not. Certainly, the film gives clear impression that a great deal of effort is being made to do so, something paid out by the fact that Coco became the second highest grossing film in Mexican history. And a quick query among Mexican friends indicates that the film was enormously well received in the country and that people proudly spoke of it representing their heritage.
Coco is an extraordinarily colourful film. Once we arrive in the Land of the Dead, the surroundings burst with every single colour of the rainbow (frequently all in the same frame at one time). As with all the enjoyable Pixar films, it is always worth watching the background for little gags the skeletons with their constantly detachable skulls and bones and secondary characters that gain their own life especially Miguels dog that partway through turns into an animate alebrije (which incidentally is not a traditional afterlife spirit but were actually figures created by artist Pedro Linares following a fevered illness that have since caught on with the public). Its enjoyable in all the right places and Unkrich gives just the right tearful and saddening spins to scenes like where the Edward James Olmos-voiced Chicarron passes away because he has been forgotten and especially at the end where Miguel is inspiring Coco to try and remember the song of her childhood.
Maybe I am just more jaded from seeing too many bad and formulaic mainstream animated films anything from Blue Sky, for instance or too many Pixar sequels that have proven to be lesser than their predecessor, but I am not enjoying Pixar films as much as I unvaryingly did until Up. In particular, I felt the big mid-film spin [PLOT SPOILERS] that Miguels great-great-grandfather wasnt the person he expected and the sudden relevance of a heretofore overlooked character was all a bit predictable in its reversals. Theres nothing there that held any surprise or maybe it was the fact that the great-great-grandfather was never named by any of his descendants and had the face torn off the photo that acts like a big red neon sign that the revelation is going to be a guessing game and all of the twists fall into place with a predictability.
(A huge thank you to Bradon Zamudio and Lucia Santiago Dantes for being my Go To people on all matters of Mexican culture in the writing of this)