Well, I figured there may come a time when Pixar stopped being reinvigorating and began it's decent into familiarity.
There was a time, over ten years ago now, when everything Pixar did turned to gold. At least in my mind it did, it felt like the studio was Midas himself. The studio was not only selling heartwarming, hilarious, hopeful films to our children but they also gave something to the adults as well. Pixar kept making films that really were family films. These movies captivated and corresponded to people of all ages, of all walks of life and I think that's why they were so popular at the box office. It seemed like this animation studio was unstoppable. It seemed like they would only make hit after hit. There are even some writers who believe they have created their own genre.
But then they started playing the sequel game. And while it was kind of fun to see characters we grew to love, it felt like more of the same. Then with their original ideas, it felt like they were just covering the same ground that they've covered in many other films. I never expected that Pixar would ever repeat themselves. While we still do get an "Inside Out" every once in awhile, it seems like repeating itself is the only game Pixar wants to play these days.
Even if the studio primarily deals in the familiar these days, that doesn't necessarily mean that their movies are bad. "Coco" is lush and luminous to look at. The power and beauty of Pixar's animation is, quite frankly, stunning. There are is not another animation studio releasing pictures this pretty right now and I can't pretend like it doesn't matter. These are animated films after all, so how well the animation itself looks is definitely something I look for. Pixar still has a way of being funny without being overly-cute. It still has a way of being important without being overbearing. It still has a way of being graciously sad without being tearjerky. Pixar continues to pull off its entire bag of tricks. My only reservation is that it's been the same bag of tricks for over a decade.
The film focuses on Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a twelve-year-old boy who dreams of becoming a singer. The only problem is that his family has a long history of hating music. Long ago, Miguel's great-great-grandmother Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was once married to a musician, but he abandoned her to go chase his dreams. Ever since that sad day, Imelda has immersed her family in the shoemaking occupation. Every member of the family has taken up the tradition, and they have also adopted the tradition of having absolutely no music in the home. These traditions have lasted for generations and generations. Even Miguel's ancient great grandmother Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia) keeps the strict traditions.
So of course, following the standard Pixar studio norm, which also follows a strict basis of traditions, Miguel wants to be a musician. It's like "Ratatouille" and "The Incredibles" and "Brave" and "Monsters Inc" and most other Pixar movies. This is about the lead character's adventure in realizing his dream. Miguel wants to be a musician so badly that he feels he could break the anti-music tradition of his home if only his family gave him the time to perform. But when he accidentally messes up a rather modern Mexican tradition, he finds himself in the land of the dead, and he must get the help of his dead ancestors to help his family see his musical skills.
What's amazing about "Coco" is how it takes the traditions and culture of Mexico and makes it accessible to everyone. The movie takes its characters adventure and their background and makes sure every audience member gets something out of it. It's not like watching a movie in a different language that only you can't understand, this is something everyone can feel. The film gives a magnificent insight into the world of Mexico, particularly on the Day of the Dead, and how that celebration plays out. But also a tableau of other cultural traditions. But don't fret, this isn't some kind of multicultural lesson, the film merely mixes these things into the fabric of the storyline, and does so with an invisible hand.
The music in the film is, to be expected, iconic. I found myself really digging the music. It allowed itself to set up my emotions and get under my skin with a fair amount of ease. I am sure if you have little ones who really like musical animated movies, then this will be for you. I am sure "Remember Me" will be added to the pantheon of other great Disney songs, along side "Let It Go" and "How Far I'll Go." It is that instantly iconic, and I am curious to see if it will win the Golden Globe for best songs in just a few short weeks.
The only thing is that the film bundles itself in big bow of the obvious, and if you've grown up watching the Pixar movies, and if you've seen enough from the Disney fault, you will feel as if you've seen this movie before. Everything around the film is so unbelievably top-notch that will easily make you swoon. I will even admit that I was a puddle of tears by film's end. But the road to get their is a bit bumpy, story-wise. Pixar used to be so good at telling a different story each time out, illuminating a different part of the human journey, our the human soul or human emotion. Now, it feels like the studio is stuck in auto-pilot.
FINAL GRADE: B