At this point, Pixar’s track record is so remarkable (well, excluding that franchise) that they can release a masterpiece and almost have it taken for granted. Take Coco, one of the most visually stunning and profoundly moving features that the studio has ever made. Released 10 years ago, Coco would have been rightly hailed as much as Wall-E or Up. These days, the movie is still appreciated and got the requisite Pixar Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination, but it felt like Coco was generally overlooked during the holiday movie season. Almost as if the distinctly cold hearts of movie critics developed a Pixar callous that prevented them from seeing the beauty of what Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina accomplished. Like the similarly stunning Inside Out, this brilliant film proves that Peak Pixar is still possible between Disney mandated sequels.
Admittedly, Coco takes a little bit long to get going. The set up is hefty and the understandable desire to honour the local Mexican culture means the filmmakers take their time. Slowly a story is weaved about a young boy who desperately wants to be a musician despite the fact that his shoe-making family has banned music for generations. He’s obsessed with a famous singer and blah-blah-blah, it all feels like the screenplay is building towards one of those “believe in yourself” stories that make up approximately 99.99% of CGI family blockbusters. Thankfully, the film is wiser and more complex than that. The lessons are more layered and true to the Day Of The Dead setting when the story finally reaches it’s destination. This isn’t a creepy Tim Burton lite Day Of The Dead film about self-improvement, but a gorgeously vibrant celebration of life, love, memory, honouring the past, and building on strong foundations for the future.
Equal parts thrilling, funny, and emotionally devastating, Coco gets the Pixar formula right. The music and digital magic all carefully fit into an emotionally rich story that’s not what it initially appears to be. It’s a wonderful work of writing, brought to life with some of the most stunning and unique animation in the history of Pixar, and backed by catchy and touching music that feels necessary to the tale rather than forced in for appeal. Perhaps that’s the most amazing part of the Pixar factory: they manage to produce movies that feel personal despite coming from an army of artists and storytellers. The core of this fanciful tale about a musical boy lost in the land of the dead is one so profoundly human and true that it could be told in a straight drama for adults.
The fact that the wise content arrives in a candy coloured, funny, catchy, endearing, and exciting package actually adds to the depths of the project rather than detracting from it. It’s a sneak attack of artistic intent that would feel like vegetables hidden at the bottom of a sundae were Coco not so carefully conceived. This movie delivers everything that’s made the Pixar brand so beloved. Coco is one of the studio’s finest achievements. It’s a shame that so few people screamed their appreciation as loudly as the movie deserved, but oh well. Coco’s reputation will grow over time. Especially now that it’s available on Blu-ray to be rewatched endlessly through tear-streaked faces.
As per usual with Disney discs, Coco absolutely stuns on Blu-ray. Depth and clarity are perfect. The lossless soundtrack fills speakers with detail and atmosphere. All the usual accolades apply. However, what makes Coco such a special viewing experience in HD is the vibrancy of the colors. Borrowing the aesthetic of The Day Of The Dead, the film is defined by blinding neon colors and inky blacks. Thankfully, they all look stunning on Blu-ray, glowing off the screen hypnotically and transporting viewers to another world. It’s an absolutely beautiful disc.
Surprisingly, the Coco disc is also overflowing with special features as well. Some of the recent Disney discs have cut back on extras since physical media sales have declined, but that sure as hell isn’t true of Coco. It’s so packed full of features that a second Blu-ray was included so that they could all be fit in without detracting for the technical presentation of the feature. So that’s a pleasent surprise. The best feature is probably the twenty-minute doc 1000 Pictures A Day that chronicles a trip to Mexico from key Pixar artists. Much like the similar Paris trip doc on the Ratatouille disc, the featurette shows key places, people, photographs and observations that made their way from the real Mexico into the stylized land of Coco. It’s all very sweet and filled with surprising details. It’s also just the tip of the special feature iceberg of this release.
In keeping with the respectful appreciation of Mexican culture, there’s a very touching featurette entitled Paths To Pixar, exploring how a variety of Latin members of the Pixar staff found their way working at the company and what the project meant to them. Hearing tales of dreams come true or how co-writer/director Adrian Molina earned his place in the project by sending unsolicited screenwriting advice to Coco to Pixar veteran Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) are surprisingly moving for a DVD doc. There’s also a delightful featurette called Mi Famila about how various staff members’ eccentric family backgrounds (as well as the families met on the research trips) created the rich and layered family in the film. It’s an intriguing doc as it shows how the project became personal to so many members of the filmmaking team. There are also more conventional DVD featurettes like a spotlight on the music, a brief piece on the history of the Day Of The Dead, designing skeletons for CG, or an exploration of the costumes (get ready to find out what a “skeleton wedgie” is…you’ll love it). Almost every element of the production is covered rather thoroughly. Best of all none of the docs ever pander to a child friendly audience. Much like the Pixar films themselves, these discs can be approached by any viewer seeking oodles of insight.
In addition to all those documentaries and featurettes, the disc also features a “proof of concept” Pixar short that the filmmakers crafted to get a greenlight that’s so stunning, moving, and amusing in a brief two minutes that it’s surprising the studio never released it as a short to play before another Pixar features. There’s also an audio commentary from Unkrich, Molina, and producer Darla Anderson filled with behind the scene details and a clear passion for the project as well as a 35-minute collection of deleted scenes guided by Unkrich/Molina (all in rough animatic form, but since Pixar puts such care into their storyboards and animatics, they are still stimulating and entertaining). Even the trailer collection includes short films and alternate trailers used to sell the movie in Mexico that highlights the cultural importance of The Day Of The Dead in an fascinating way.
Does this deserve a spot on your Dork Shelf?
Simply put, this is one of the finest Blu-ray discs that Disney/Pixar have ever produced. A stunning transfer, an absolute mountain of insightfully personal special features. Best of all that, garbage Frozen Christmas short/toy commercial that plagued Coco’s theatrical run is no where in sight.
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