If there’s one thing that bothers me in screenwriting, it’s laziness. Unfortunately, it’s extremely common. So every once and awhile a film will come along that makes me think “Wow, they really did their research!” And friends, COCO is that movie.
Everything about this film made me think it was crafted with a lot of love and care, from its stunning animation to the nuances of its script. The detailing in the animation is just incredible, and it was well worth the efforts of all of the animators because it looks better than anything Disney/Pixar has done in a while. It was like watching the “Let It Go” scene from Frozen but for an entire movie.
But the detail goes a lot deeper than just the animation. If you don’t know what COCO is, it’s the latest film from Disney/Pixar which follows a young boy, Miguel, who has a passion for music but his family has banned it as it was once the cause of much pain and grief for Miguel’s great-great grandmother. Ignoring the wishes of his family, Miguel steals a guitar from a local musical legend’s grave on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), which sends him into the bright, beautiful land of the dead.
Now, I admittedly wasn’t the biggest fan of the movie’s plot, but I certainly appreciated the clear effort that was put into getting the cultural aspects right. The movie is set in Mexico and the themes are heavily rooted in Mexican culture. It wasn’t just important that they understood the culture, it was essential. And it was essential that the audience understood too, and for this reason the film spends a lot of expositional time telling us about the history and traditions of Dia de los Muertos. But it didn’t feel like exposition because the film did it in such a way that made a lot of sense — the family was explaining the importance of Dia de los Muertos to the child.
But the movie takes even further steps. Usually culture in American-produced cinema goes one of two ways: 1) it’s a toned-down version of the culture, mentioning the big ideas but skimping on the details, or 2) exaggeration and stereotype. Whereas in Moana I couldn’t even name the tribe they were from, in COCO it’s pure, undiluted Mexican culture that could not be mistaken for anything else. And sure, people may be slightly more familiar with Mexican culture than Polynesian culture, but even if you had gone into this film completely blind, you would have walked out with a decent understanding of the country and its people. And this is done mostly through the details. For example, while the film is translated quite a few phrases are left in Spanish, as well as most of the songs. Also, Miguel’s companion throughout the movie is Dante, a Xoloitzcuintli dog, which are known to be very important to the Aztec heritage of Mexico and said to be the guides to the spirit world around which the film centers.
They didn’t just draw a random dog, they chose one that meant something to the story and to the people the story draws from.
I think that the attention to detail really makes or breaks a film, and it’s what sets this film apart from other recent releases. I appreciated the work put into COCO both during production and before to make sure that they were telling this story to the absolute best of their ability, and the result was a film that really depicted life in Mexico and a very specific part of their culture that holds significance in their society. It goes to show that I’m not asking for much as a moviegoer, just that the creators take the time to understand the people they’re depicting.