Animating Halloween/Pixar’s Lamp | Coco (2017) Review

Plot: Miguel’s family has detested music for generations ever since his great-great grandfather abandoned his family to become a musician. Forced to follow his love of music and the famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz in secret, Miguel attempts to follow his dream of becoming a musician on Dia de Muertos by entering a music competition.

His grandma, having found out about his secret, destroys the guitar he built, leaving him with no means of participating in the competition. In an effort to secure a guitar in time, Miguel winds up getting trapped in the land of the dead when he tries to steal de la Cruz’s guitar from his tomb. Only the blessing of his deceased family members can send him back home, but they’ll only do it under the condition that he never play music again. Miguel scrambles to find another way home without sacrificing his love of music before sunrise or else he’ll be trapped in the land of the dead forever.

Breakdown: Warning – While I did my best to avoid spoilers in this review, I couldn’t avoid talking about some of them so, spoiler warning.

I have scoured far and wide for animated Halloween specials and movies, it never really occurred to me to look for any animated media about Dia de Muertos or the Day of the Dead until I decided to finally watch Coco. Let me be very clear – I’m aware that the Day of the Dead is not Halloween nor does Halloween’s roots really come from the Day of the Dead. They seem similar due to imagery such as graveyards and skulls and a few traditions such as dressing in costumes lining up, but they are not one in the same and come from very different backgrounds. Day of the Dead is also not celebrated on October 31st – although it does come immediately afterward on November 1st.

That being said, I still feel like this counts because….pbbttt….I want it to. Animating Halloween entries technically don’t have to be about Halloween, and it fits the general criteria so I’m counting it.

Onto more important matters, I need to get this out of my system, holy frickin’ rendering, this movie is GORGEOUS. Every frame of this movie is like it’s begging you to pause and stare at each image….which I did a few times. Pixar keeps outdoing itself at every turn. It’s beyond impressive. The details on the clothing and the faces, the hair, every little item and building, the textures, the animation, the absolutely heart-stopping coloring, the amazing stylization – I want to watch it all over again just to soak in more of those visuals. They’re so good.

This movie really aimed to celebrate Mexican culture, and while I can’t attest to any inaccuracies or the like since I am not Mexican or of Latin descent, I believe it achieved this goal in spades. It definitely serves as being a fantastic Dia de Muertos movie. It lends proper focus to the main themes and traditions of the holiday without beating you over the head with the message too much. I want to read up on it as much as I can because it looks like such a cool holiday that I wish we had in the States.

In regards to the story, it had its ups and downs. I think the premise is incredibly interesting and the story as a whole is well-executed, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without flaws. One of the biggest problems being that 90% of the movie is very predictable.

I’m going to say something silly right now, but believe me I have my reasons…..this is pretty much The Little Mermaid for the first 45 minutes. I’m not saying it’s about mermaids – there are approximately zero mermaids in the movie – I mean the general story notes hit the same. Something is banned and hated from the MC’s family/world, but the MC really adores the banned thing. MC enjoys the banned thing in secret until their fangirl/boyness gets found out. Parental figure destroys their hidden shrine to the banned thing, including one particularly important thing. MC runs off because of how awful and unfair they’re being. They accidentally enter another world by doing something unethical/wrong and they need to fix their mistakes without sacrificing their love of banned thing. In the end, both worlds combine and everyone’s happy. Bonus – the heavy music themes.

Even taking my comparison to The Little Mermaid out of the equation, it’s still a pretty predictable story for 90% of its runtime. However, it’s very much saved by two things; 1) The overall ride of the visuals, music and characters make this story memorable and unique. Remember, cliches and predictability are only as bad as you make them due to lack of style and innovation. 2) I said 90% of the storyline because there is a huge plot twist near the end that I never saw coming. I was really thrown for a loop when that was revealed. I knew that de la Cruz would turn out to be a bad guy because movies always tend to drive home a ‘don’t meet your heroes’ message for whatever reason, and the guy was simply hero worshipped by too many people to not turn out to be an awful person, but I never expected the other half of that reveal. I was completely blindsided.

Another issue was that I thought the family’s hatred of music was overkill to say the least. I can understand Imelda (Great-great grandmother) hating music that much, but not the entire family – most of which never even met the great-great grandfather. He could have abandoned his family for any profession. If he ran off to become a famous chef, would they all hate and banish food?

It’s revealed near the end that Coco never stopped loving her father and kept all of the letters and ‘poems’ he sent to her before his death, so why didn’t she stop this cycle of hatred? I’m not putting the full blame on her, since her mother seemed like a very outspoken person who likely passed on her hatred to Coco’s children without Coco getting a word in edgewise, but it still seems like something she had some modicum of control over, especially after Imelda died.

Give Triton credit. At least his hatred of humans and the surface world has quite a bit of justification behind it. Humans were a huge threat to sea creatures and they were responsible for killing his wife. Abandoning your family is a crappy thing to do no matter the reason, but music wasn’t responsible for him making that crappy decision. It just happened to be the dream he was pursuing. There’s nothing inherently bad about music. To have such a deep hatred of it that you harass people on the street for playing music, yell at family members for so much as humming or act like your son is a terrible person for wanting to be a musician is just crazy.

This was probably intentional, but the hypocritical aspect of Miguel’s family holding the concept of family so dear while also damning one of their family for something as silly as playing music is definitely not lost on me.

Of course, Miguel also had to learn the importance of family while both sides had to learn to balance family and passion, which was a sweet sentiment.

Being completely honest, in the end, Hector’s story was more interesting that Miguel’s journey, but I can’t go into that very much without spoiling a lot.

Miguel is a very nice and realistic boy, and, despite some hiccups, I never stopped rooting for him to both get back to the land of the living and retain his ability to practice music. Over the course of the story, it shifts from being simply about him pursuing his own dreams to also about bringing music back to his family.

The story as a whole is a great way to tackle the subject of death with children in a manner that is extremely respectful and not scary – at least in my opinion. No matter your beliefs on an afterlife, Coco isn’t afraid to talk about death, depict it and explore it in a manner that a child would understand fairly easily without too much to worry about in regards to frightening them.

There is one aspect of this lore that is scary and depressing even to adults – the concept of being forgotten. I think a lot of people have had that existential crisis where we think about what happens after we’re long gone and forgotten. Thinking about that in the scope of the physical world is enough of a heavy topic to weigh on any adult’s shoulders. Coco, however, introduces the concept of what I’ll call a double death.

When you die, you go to the land of the dead, which is basically our world only awesome because everyone’s a cool-ass skeleton and there’s a massive city with lots of neon lights, there are insanely cool spirit animals and everything’s incredible, but not in a heavenly perfect way.

Every Dia de Muertos, those in the land of the dead are allowed to pass over to the living world to visit their relatives and enjoy the festivities. You’re allowed to enter the physical world if your family has put up your photo in their ofrenda, which is a shrine where the photos of lost loved ones are displayed and offerings are placed during Dia de Muertos. Typically, as long as your photo is kept up every year, you’re not forgotten.

However, the depressing part comes for anyone who is forgotten. If your family or another loved one hasn’t put up your photo in an ofrenda and no one in the living world who knew you when you were alive still remembers you, you disappear…forever. You doubly die. How depressing is it to have an afterlife where you can die again, this time permanently, and the death is caused by your memory fading from the physical realm?

Hector even says disappearing in this manner happens to everyone eventually, which does make sense but geez, what a depressing concept.

Music being a central theme in this movie means the music has to be top-notch here, and I’m happy to report that it is. Both the orchestral score and the lyrical songs are phenomenal. It’s a soundtrack I’d gladly purchase.

The voice acting was also very well done. The movie has an almost entirely Latin cast, which is very appreciated, and everyone did quite well in their roles. I liked that they had Miguel be a decent singer but very obviously still sound like he’s rough and inexperienced. His passion for music and his skills with guitar playing shine through during these moments and make his performance both incredibly real and impacting without being distracting.

I loved Coco from start to finish, even if I was mostly latched onto the visuals for the first chunk of the movie before the story really took off. It’s one of Pixar’s best movies, if you ask me. I didn’t tear up at any point, but I had a blast watching it, and it did get me a tiny bit emotional near the end.

Recommended Audience: As I mentioned, this movie basically needs to talk about death and the afterlife a whole lot, which may be a touchy subject for children, but I believe it covers this topic so well that it wouldn’t be too risky for young children. Still, be warned that the themes are here and more sensitive children might not be receptive to it even with the happy and optimistic tone. It should also be noted that murder is brought up once. I don’t think there is anything else questionable or offensive etc. in this movie, so 6+.

Final Notes: Can we keep up discussing how awful Blu-ray cover art usually is? Look at the awesome poster I used for this review and then compare that with the Blu-ray.

This entire movie is chalked up to ‘Boy with guitar.’ Get your crap together, Blu-ray.


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