After a string of mostly pretty good sequels, Pixar once again dives into some bold, original territory with its latest film, Coco. Once again, Pixar has made a movie that may be animated but is perhaps more meaningful for the older members of the audience then the kids that will insist on going to the bright, colorful, vibrant looking film. Much like Inside Out, some of the themes of this film will likely never be recognized by the younger audience, but may have a lasting and thoughtful impact on the rest as they ponder the importance of family in today’s culture. Coco may focus on the role family plays in Hispanic culture, but the themes and emotions it touches on are one that are universal for all families regardless of the culture they’re in, which once again demonstrates the true genius of Pixar; being able to take something that might not seem like it could relate to a wide audience and turn it into something truly special for all ages of all cultures.
Coco is a fairly simplistic story; a young boy wants to be a musician, but because of past family history, he is forbidden from pursuing his dream. The surprise here is that an accidental trip to the land of the dead doesn’t just magically fix everything, but rather becomes a journey full of complex revelations and insights that vividly demonstrates just how hard it can be to be a part of a family sometimes, but also just how important it is to be willing to put in the work to make those family dynamics work as harmoniously as possible. Truth be told, I thought the first third of the film was a bit of a slow burn, it takes its time putting things in place in giving just the right amount of context to the characters and the situations. However, the payoff for all of that later in the movie is well worth. There are twists, surprises, and some truly powerful and emotional moments that are as heartfelt as they are genuine. I was actually a bit stunned by the end of the film of just how much of a gut punch some of it was, and just how emotional it was. Yet, it leaves you with a powerful sense of hope and joy, and a true desire to find some family to just give them a hug; a perfect sentiment to leave the audience with during the Thanksgiving season.
Of course, any journey to the land of the dead is not without its problems. The biggest of which is once everyone in the land of the living forgets you, you will disappear. Poof, gone into nothingness, or something. However, if family remembers you during the Dia de los Muertos, once can make a visit into the land of the living and celebrate with family. I have to be honest, I struggled a bit with the idea that the quality of one’s afterlife is entirely dependent on being properly remembered. With the state of fractured families today, it seems like a rather tenuous arrangement at best. I think that’s why I find what the Bible reveals about the afterlife so comforting. In short, we’re told that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, no one will ever be forgotten. 1 Peter 3:18 tells us that Christ died once for all, to bring us all to God. When we believe in him, we can all be in the presence of God for eternity, without ever worrying about being forgotten. God loves us far too much to ever let that happen.
Pixar remains the best of the business despite the growing number of competitors. Their grasp on story and character development remains second to none, and their willingness to use animation to tackle thought-provoking and important cultural themes continues to set them apart from the rest of the pack. Coco is a perfect example of all of that. It’s a vibrant, heartfelt, and uplifting journey the whole family can enjoy, and maybe even spend some quality time discussing after the fact, beyond just recapping their favorite parts.
Score: 5 of 7 – I can’t be sure, but I think some very young ones might get a bit restless in this one, but for the rest of the family, it’s a great way to spend a few hours during a family get-together over a holiday weekend.