What an absolute shock that Pixar won Best Animated Feature.
Okay, so sarcasm doesn’t translate well into text. It was practically certain that Pixar’s Coco would end up with the coveted Oscar. Of course, when half of its competition is Ferdinand and The Boss Baby, it had a relatively easy path forward. Now there has been plenty of discourse about how the animation nominations are selected, and plenty of discourse over whether it’s proper for Disney to win the award so often. I don’t want to get bogged down in that debate. Instead, I want to focus on Coco, its merits and its context. Be warned, spoilers ahead!
I’ve grown up with Pixar movies, and I’ve always adored the studio’s work. So I don’t speak lightly when I say that Coco represents a new pinnacle in their abilities and storytelling. It’s a step away from their famous “if X had feelings” formula. It’s a heartfelt story that strikes a balance between drama and humor and shows that Pixar’s adept skill at making family movies that are more than just “kids” movies. They have a positive bait-and-switch tactic: they advertise the funny jokes, bright colors, and goofy animal sidekicks. Then you sit in the theater and get themes like memory and culture, a plot which involves murder and exposed lies, and plenty of crying.
Coco also snatched up a second Oscar for Best Song, specifically for “Remember Me.” The song is written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, famous for “Let It Go” from Frozen. “Remember Me” plays so centrally into the film’s plot. In the beginning, it’s a bombastic and fantastic song about impassioned love presented by superstar Ernesto de la Cruz. It’s catchy and upbeat. However, once we learn that Héctor wrote the song for his daughter Coco, it feels so different. Suddenly, it’s close and intimate. It changes from passion to a quiet sincerity, a pure kind of love that moved me (and the entire theater) to tears.
Besides just its content though, Coco also feels remarkable for its context on several different levels. Bear in mind that production began all the way back in 2010, so it’d be inaccurate to say that it was made in response to any recent events. The timing, however, ended up impeccable. A major plot thread in the movie involves our hero Miguel wanting to follow in the footsteps of his idol Ernesto de la Cruz, only to find out that he’s a fraud and a murderer. The very night that Coco premiered, I had a similar shock in real life. My longtime idol, John Lasseter, announced a “temporary leave” from Disney Animation and Pixar. It turns out that he, too, had been taking part in sexual misconduct. At the moment it looks unlikely he will actually return from his “leave.”
Of course, there’s also the elephant in the room. A film celebrating a foreign culture, described as a “love letter to Mexico,” seems particularly fitting in this administration. That fact was not lost on Oscars night as the team of Coco took to the stage. Producer Darla Anderson thanked her wife; director and writer Adrian Molina thanked his husband and his Mexican community; co-director Lee Unkrich spoke about the importance of “a world where all children can grow up seeing characters in movies that look and talk and live like they do.” And after them, Anthony Gonzalez, the voice of Miguel, cried out “Muchisimas gracias a todos y que viva Mexico!” — “Many thanks to everyone and long live Mexico!”
I’m happy for Coco. I’m happy for its financial success. I’m happy for its critical praise. I’m happy for its awards. The film means a lot to me in many different ways. Not only is it a beautifully crafted picture, but as a gay man and as a Mexican, it warms my heart to see people like me up on that stage, being rewarded for their work. The Washington Post reported that backstage, Anderson pointed to Molina and said “This is the future.” If she’s correct, then it’s a very bright future indeed.
David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the College of Labor and Industrial Relations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Animation Analysis runs alternate Tuesdays this semester.