Released 26th December (Australia)
Seen 3rd December (Advance Screening)
Directed by Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina
Written by Adrian Molina & Matthew Aldrich
Produced by Disney Pixar
Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt & Renee Victor
Miguel (Played by Anthony Gonzalez) grew up in a household where the only thing that was banned was music, due to it being part of the breakup of the family. All his life he’s known that his family expects him to grow up and be a shoemaker like everyone else, but all Miguel wants is to play music. On Dia de Muertos, Miguel finally decides to take his chance and perform in the talent show, but the only guitar he can find that he can perform with belongs to the long deceased Ernesto de la Cruz (Played by Benjamin Bratt). Miguel sneaks into Ernesto’s crypt and, while apologising profusely, takes the guitar which leads him to be cursed and discover the land of the dead. Now Miguel must find a way to get home, a way that will allow him to follow his dream.
This movie is one of Pixar’s most visually stunning films, the high contrasting colours that flow throughout every scene in the land of the dead is gorgeous to look at. Anything that involves the Aztec Marigold flowers especially just blows you away with how bright and cheerful they make every scene, even ones filled with walking skeletons. Speaking of those skeletons, they all have facial paintings that match the iconic sugar skull imagery we all know and every one of them works and looks gorgeous. They create this world and bring the stories of Dia de Muertos to life in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen on film. At least, not in a film made for a mass audience like Disney tend to do it.
A little knowledge of Disney’s past would suggest that handling other cultures in a respectful manner has never really been Disney’s strong suit, you only have to glance at how awkward some of the stuff in Pocahontas could get to see that (Savages… I get what they were going for but come on, we all cringed a little). They’ve tried, but there’s been a lot of times when it felt like a predominately white team telling stories of cultures they knew little about. Moana showed they were improving, Coco shows they got it now. They handle Dia de Muertos in a way that feels respectful, it’s clear they had a lot of consultants on hand to make sure they didn’t screw this up. They still have some moments that play with the idea, for example crossing the barrier between the dead and the living is visually similar to going through Airport security but they use that visual shorthand to pull those of us (Like me, I’ll cop to it) who know nothing of this culture. It lets everyone see how important this day is, explains the ideas behind it in a way that is easily digestible and on top of all that, it uses this day and all the powerful ideas behind it to tell a sweet story of a boy who wants to make music and want’s his family to see how good he is at it.
Scenes that take place in the land of the dead are by far some of the best, especially when they explore the concept that someone only truly dies when we forget them which is why stories of older generations are passed down. This is a major part of the plot as one of the main characters has Alzheimer’s or dementia (It’s never explicitly said which one, but it’s obviously one of them) so her forgetting people from her life has a major impact towards the climax of the film. This is an insanely heavy subject to put in a film, especially one that’s aimed towards children, but it’s so beautifully done and allows the filmmakers to hammer home the idea of passing on stories throughout the generations that I can’t help but feel the same swell of pride that I felt when I realised how they were addressing depression in Inside Out, this is something that Disney Pixar have learned how to do in a way that I didn’t expect a major film studio to do.
My only problem with this movie is that there is one element of the story that they have now done more often than I’d like, mostly I don’t like it because I know for a fact they could do better but this element worked before and they don’t want to let it go until they have too. I do like how after this moment happens that they do their best to earn it by pushing the story as dark as they can go with it but I wish they would stop doing this thing, Frozen did this exact thing in the final act and now you need to try something else, Disney. If you saw Frozen then when you see this moment you should know what I mean (I’m trying hard not to spoil it in case it doesn’t bug you as much as it bugs me) but other than that I was fine with everything. Especially the last shot of the film. Seriously, stay until the credits finish rolling, there’s a touching tribute that needs to be seen. Besides, we live in a post-Marvel world now, why on earth are you leaving any movie before the credit’s finish?
A bright beautiful film that’s filled with life, love and family. Truly touching, sweet and fun with some great music and a brilliant tribute to Dia de Muertos.
PS: OK, so let’s have a quick moment to talk about that Frozen short that everyone’s complained about. It’s honestly not that bad, it’s a good cartoon and has some good songs and a decent story… it should’ve been put on TV on December 24th. That’s where it belongs, it’s a half hour special you put on TV to get everyone in the Christmas spirit and, undoubtedly, rake in higher ratings than anyone should be getting because you’d be airing a brand new Frozen special. It’s not awful, but it doesn’t fit with this film and should’ve been saved for TV. Putting a 20 minute special before this movie was a bad plan. The shorts you’ve made worked wonderfully before, Lava is still one of my favourite of the Pixar shorts and that clocked in at 7 minutes. Lou was absolutely precious, it was 6 minutes long and you put it in front of Cars 3. Stick to shorts under 10 minutes before your major releases Disney, that’s when they work best.