JUDGING BY the earliest returns, Pixar might well have a winning film on its hands this Thanksgiving.
“Coco,” the studio’s new film, which centers on a boy’s musical journey within Mexico’s Day of the Dead/Día de Muertos rituals and customs, has the first wave of top reviewers waxing mostly positive, especially glowing over the effects (naturally), the emotion (to be expected) and what the movie represents in terms of diversity.
This is the 19th Pixar film, but the first to feature multiple characters of color in prominent roles.
“Coco,” directed by Lee Unkrich and co-directed by Adrian Molina, is also reassuringly textured in how it appropriates cultural symbols and folklore, critics say.
The film (opening Nov. 22) delivers “a universal message about family bonds while adhering to folkloric traditions free of the watering down or whitewashing that have often typified Americanized appropriations of cultural heritage,” writes Michael Rechtshaffen for the Hollywood Reporter.
Amid recent casting controversies involving white actors in such comics adaptations as “Doctor Strange” and “Ghost in the Shell,” THR also notes that “a peerless voice cast [is] populated almost entirely by Mexican and Latino actors.”
Variety’s Peter Debruge, too, lauds “Coco’s” innovation on the diversity front as it seriously deals “with the deficit of nonwhite characters in [Pixar] films” — even “while coloring comfortably within the lines on practically everything else.”
The Hollywood Reporter also praises aspects of the film that have become Pixar hallmarks, citing “a richly woven tapestry of comprehensively researched storytelling, fully dimensional characters, clever touches both tender and amusingly macabre and vivid, beautifully textured visuals.”
That said, Pixar’s recent “Cars 3″ and “The Good Dinosaur” weren’t hailed as worthy of cracking the studio’s top creative tier. But THR calls “Coco” Pixar’s “most original effort since 2015’s ‘Inside Out.’ ”
The Wrap’s Robert Abele echoes the return to form, writing: “The animation juggernaut has once more shown how its storytelling acumen and visual splendors are still the surest dance partners in movies today.”
The Wrap also notes a different sort of creative breakthrough within this film: “It’s the most human-populated story the studio has yet told, even if many of those humans are in exaggerated skeletal form.”
The review later adds, “From the villagers of fictional Santa Cecilia to the ancestral inhabitants of the Land of the Dead — the candy-colored afterlife megalopolis where most of the story takes place — ‘Coco’ eschews the easy-cute of anthropomorphizing the inanimate or fantastical in favor of characters grounded in the recognizable.”