Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle


Grade : A Year : 2017 Director : Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina Running Time : 1hr 45min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

As soon as I saw a clip early on in Pixar’s “Coco” while doing checks at work, I knew I had to make a point of seeing it in theatres. I hadn’t been terribly interested in it before that, but walking in on a clip where Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is telling someone about his idol, the famed musician Ernesto de la Cruz, and his fate, had me suddenly intrigued. I thought back to “Ratatouille,” wherein Remy also had a famous idol who inspired his creativity, and that Brad Bird film is one of my favorite Pixar films because it inspires the creator in me. Just that brief moment had me thinking “Coco” would work the same magic. Boy, was I in for a shock.

As I left the theatre after Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina’s wonderful animated adventure, tears streaming from my eyes, my strongest thoughts were about my family who is no longer with us. In particular, I thought of my aunt Kathy, who passed away earlier this year. Kathy was born with Down Syndrome, and was in state care for much of her life. By the end of her life, she had dementia, and when I went to visit her on a trip to Ohio last year, she didn’t recognize me, and didn’t really say anything. I left “Coco” thinking about her because one of the biggest ideas in the film comes from the remembrance of those passed to the next life. The film takes place during the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, and one of the most powerful moments comes when Miguel, who has inadvertently crossed over after a fit of rage with his family, witnesses an old man he hopes to borrow a guitar from disappears. The old man, long dead, is no longer remembered by the living, and that idea of just being forgotten, of no longer having a memory being held on Earth, is what led me to think about my aunt Kathy. After a certain generation of my family passes away, that will be it, she will no longer be remembered by anyone alive, and that is sad to me. I don’t have a lot of memorable memories with her, per se, but I remember her, when I was younger, being a light when I would see her, and seeing that extinguished by time and disease is painful. I wonder how long her memory will last.

Miguel’s family is traditionally a family of shoemakers, but Miguel has another passion- he wants to be a musician. Practicing on a homemade guitar, which he has modeled after de la Cruz’s, he hides away with a shrine to de la Cruz as the rest of his family prepares for the Day of the Dead by putting out pictures of those who have passed on, and putting out offerings welcoming them home for one night. His family does not support his musical tendencies, as his great, great grandfather ran out on his familial responsibilities to his wife and daughter, Coco, to follow fame, breaking the family apart. A torn picture shows the wife and Coco (Miguel’s great grandmother, who is celebrating her final Day of the Dead) with the husband’s face torn out, but there are clues that lead Miguel to believe that de la Cruz is his great great grandfather. Music is in his blood, but after a fight with his family, and especially, his grandmother, he runs to follow his dream, but finds himself on the other side with the dead visiting their family. He runs into his deceased family in the cemetery, and crosses the bridge to the land of the dead with them, but he has to get back to the plane of the living before sunrise, or else he will never be able to return.

This is a magical film from Pixar. This is easily one of their best films since “Toy Story 3” (I would say their best, but, “Inside Out”), and honestly, if you aren’t in tears for the last 10 minutes of this film, I don’t know what to tell you. Miguel’s story has shades of “Ratatouille” and how the creative soul is often an outsider among conventional lives, but the film also illustrates how our heroes can sometimes destroy our expectations, as well, a timely theme for adults this year with the barrage of celebrities who have fallen from grace due to inappropriate behavior. De la Cruz is not the only musician Miguel finds in the Land of the Dead, and the role of Hector (Gael García Bernal) is one of the richest in Pixar’s history, and Bernal’s performance goes with the smart writing from Molina and Matthew Aldrich to create something really special in this character who will be more than Miguel’s guide to finding de la Cruz. The music, whether it’s the score by Michael Giacchino or the songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (whose “Remember Me” is an instant classic), with help from Germaine Franco and Adrian Molina, is one of the best soundtracks Pixar has inspired in a long time. And the colors and images are beautifully imaginative and powerful, making this a wonderful backdrop for an adventure of the heart. Like “Up,” like “Wall-E,” this is, first and foremost, an emotional story from Pixar entertainment about following your heart, and the surprises it affords you along the way. I love this film with all my being. It is something special.

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