Coco hon­ours its Mex­i­can roots

Moose Jaw Times Herald - - SCREEN - Jor­dan Bosch

Dis­ney really loves cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. And that’s not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing. But if they are to con­tinue to ex­plore the world for new sto­ry­telling av­enues, they should fol­low in the foot­steps of Coco.

The film is about Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old Mex­i­can boy who, de­spite his fam­ily’s harsh op­po­si­tion to it, dreams of be­ing a suc­cess­ful mu­si­cian in the vein of his hero, Ernesto de la Cruz. When his grand­mother, who fears he’ll aban­don the fam­ily if he pur­sues mu­sic like her grand­fa­ther did, de­stroys his gui­tar on Dia de Muer­tos, he runs away, and winds up in the Land of the Dead where he needs the bless­ing of a rel­a­tive to re­turn him to Earth.

This movie’s world is ter­rif­i­cally re­al­ized, cre­atively pulling a lot from Mex­i­can folk­lore and iconog­ra­phy. The an­i­ma­tion is vi­brant, and su­perbly eclec­tic. It’s ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful that the bridge be­tween worlds is a lit­eral bridge made of au­tumn leaves.

An­thony Gon­za­lez voices Miguel with an ea­ger but im­pas­sioned flare. He’s not a ter­ri­bly orig­i­nal pro­tag­o­nist, but you un­der­stand his dilemma and his pas­sion for mu­sic.

The scene-stealer of the movie though is Miguel’s com­pan­ion Hec­tor, voiced mag­nif­i­cently by Gael Gar­cia Ber­nal. He’s the most in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter with the most emo­tional mo­ti­va­tion and his sto­ry­line is ul­ti­mately the most ful­fill­ing.

Hec­tor is both the heart of this movie and the comic re­lief, and is great in both re­spects, a tes­ta­ment to Ber­nal’s tal­ent and that of the an­i­ma­tors. Ernesto is voiced by Ben­jamin Bratt with the charis­matic show­man­ship evoca­tive of mu­sic-movie stars of the 1930s and 40s. The rest of the movie is pop­u­lated with Mex­i­can and Lat­inAmer­i­can ac­tors, in­clud­ing Alanna Ubach, Re­nee Vic­tor, Jaime Camil, Sofia Espinosa, Cheech Marin, and Ed­ward James Ol­mos.

Coco is a movie that fully em­braces the cul­ture it’s rep­re­sent­ing. The vis­ual sense is drenched in un­mis­take­able Day of the Dead im­agery and every frame seems to have some­thing dis­tinctly Mex­i­can about it. But there are a myr­iad of movies that nail a cul­tural aes­thetic down like this; it takes one that’s more clever and more de­voted to go the ex­tra mile.

Plenty of fam­ily films re­volve around the moral of the im­por­tance of fam­ily, but Coco chooses to ad­dress it through the dis­tinct lens of Mex­i­can her­itage and the themes of Dia de Muer­tos. Oral fam­ily his­tory is an im­por­tant fo­cal point of this film, the re­mem­ber­ing of ones an­ces­tors its emo­tional drive. The sig­nif­i­cance of at­tain­ing fa­mil­ial bless­ing is a ma­jor plot de­vice, es­sen­tial to Miguel’s char­ac­ter arc. These aren’t com­mon themes in western film, but are cru­cial ones in the cus­toms and tra­di­tions of Latin Amer­ica and many other so­ci­eties around the world.

The fact that Coco makes them such a vi­tal part of its story shows a real re­spect and un­der­stand­ing not of­ten found in movies like this. Where the story in Brave for ex­am­ple could’ve been told any­where, the story of Coco is thor­oughly Mex­i­can.

The film’s one weak­ness is prob­a­bly the plot. The di­rec­tion is fairly stan­dard, the twists really pre­dictable, and it falls into a few traps like the liar-re­vealed cliché and a mis­un­der­stand­ing. But while you ab­so­lutely know for the most part where the movie’s go­ing, the jour­ney there is in al­most every other re­spect, en­tirely grat­i­fy­ing.

Coco is a daz­zling movie. Not only is it en­ter­tain­ing and gor­geous to watch, but it demon­strates how to trans­late an­other cul­ture right by us­ing their own tra­di­tions to de­velop a story. It’s the dif­fer­ence be­tween telling some­one else’s story and just telling a story about some­one else; and I think Coco should be an ex­am­ple for fu­ture an­i­mated movies wish­ing to hon­our that some­one else’s cul­ture on film. There was sadly no Pixar short be­fore Coco. In­stead, there was Olaf’s Frozen Ad­ven­ture, a poor 20-minute Christ­mas spe­cial that has no busi­ness be­ing in­tru­sively in front of this movie. It’s im­mensely ironic that this spin-off pre­oc­cu­pied with the theme of tra­di­tion is stomp­ing over one of Pixars’ great­est. Just know if you’re twenty min­utes late to a screen­ing, you’re not miss­ing any­thing.

PIXAR AN­I­MA­TION STU­DIOS PHOTO

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