I cried a lot during this movie. I’m not ashamed of it – I’m not the only grown man I’ve talked to who cried during this movie. I think it’s a chronic thing, an epidemic of sorts among grown men who see Inside Out, and I want all you other grown men to know ahead of time, so you can practice hiding your faces from your significant others and sniffling quietly enough to not attract any attention.
I wrote that two years ago in my last review of a Pixar movie. Replace “Inside Out” with “Coco” and this would be a fitting introduction to Pixar’s newest movie. It’s worth wondering if Pixar is actually good at conjuring emotions at the drop of a musical cue or if I’m just prone to blubbering. I hope you’ll believe me when I say that both are true.
Coco focuses on a boy (the winsome Anthony Gonzalez) of about 12 years who gets trapped in the Land of the Dead and sets off to find his great-great-grandfather to help him cross back over to the living. All signs point to his great-great-grandfather being the most famous Latin singer of all time, Ernesto de la Cruz (a surprising Benjamin Bratt), who is also from the boy’s hometown. The boy happens to love de la Cruz’s music and wants to be a musician himself, but his family despises music and shuns all traces of it from their lives, due to the boy’s great-great-grandfather leaving his wife with a young daughter to pursue his dream of being a musician.
The boy’s name is actually Miguel, not Coco. Coco is Miguel’s great-grandmother, the aforementioned young daughter of Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, and she is still alive, though she barely talks, and when she does, what she says is either incoherent or irrelevant to the conversation. You won’t understand why the movie isn’t named Miguel until you see the whole thing. Coco is the movie’s emotional hinge; the floodgates don’t open without her.
And you’ll see from a mile away that they’re about to open, to be honest. While Coco is an engaging story with good voice work from its cast and a poignant ending, much of the movie is fairly predictable. The middle section of the movie had the potential to be something new, much in the way that Joy’s and Sadness’s journey in Inside Out was wholly original, but the movie is more concerned with hitting the plot beats that get you to the ending you already know it coming. Predictability is not necessarily a fatal flaw; I still enjoyed the movie, and there’s something comfortable about knowing where a movie is going. But you mourn for what might have been.
But oh! How beautiful is the Land of the Dead in Coco! For any regret I had for the story Coco could have been, I had twice the excitement for how it looks. The colors pop, the lines of the architecture stir the spirit, the physics of creating such a world boggle the mind. Pixar has always been ahead of the curve among mainstream studios at treating each screenshot like an individual work of art. Coco’s swirls of brightness and rich detail take this to another level.
And in the end, it didn’t matter that I saw the ending coming, because I cried like a baby anyway. If you’ve ever witnessed an older relative begin to disappear within themselves, you will too. I expect a lot from Pixar movies, and even when the studio stumbles in its storytelling, it still has a better handle than anyone else on the emotional connections at the heart of families. So who cares if Coco took a conventional approach? The conventional approach worked.