Disney recently released the first teaser trailer for Pixar’s next original feature film, Coco. The teaser introduces us to a world full of music, magic, and spirits centered around Dia de los Muertos. In accordance with standard Pixar protocol, this teaser offers us only a slight glimpse at the characters and story, and instead envelopes the audience in the world of the film. After presenting the teaser, this piece will focus on what we can learn about the aesthetic of the film from the trailer, discuss the creative team behind the film, and flesh out the narrative and potential themes based on other interviews. Here we go:
Official Teaser Trailer for Coco (Pixar, Release Date: November 22, 2017):
“We are all a part of those who came before”
There’s practically no plot in the trailer. We get a little characterization, but the main character isn’t even named. It’s Miguel, a young boy who idolizes an old musician and seeks out his old guitar. When Miguel strums the guitar, he is transported into the land of the dead with his trusty dog where he runs into a bunch of colorful skeletons.
The allusions pile upon each other. There are hints of Ratatouille, where a main character is influenced by a deceased mentor to pursue a passion. The transition to a spiritual world is right out of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, and later hints at the story suggest that Miguel will have to escape back into reality before a certain time. Surface-level analyses will obviously identify The Book of Life (2014) as a comp, but besides having Dia de los Muertos as a setting / subject, the films appear to be quite different.
The animation style appears to be vibrant and colorful, from the brightness of the festivities and the skeletons to the leafs that illuminate when Miguel touches them. Pixar generally makes an effort to allow the animation style to convey additional meaning in their films (for example, the frenetic borders of the feelings in Inside Out). It appears that director Lee Unkrich endeavors for the same with Coco: “I’d seen it portrayed in folk art. It was something about the juxtaposition of skeletons with bright, festive colors that captured my imagination,”1.
Unkrich should be a familiar name for Pixar fans. The director helmed the exemplary Toy Story 3, perhaps the best Pixar film ever. He also cut his teeth co-directing Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc; and Finding Nemo. Bottom line – the man is a solid director of animation with a track record of absurd achievement. Past performance is not a guarantee of future success, but it sure don’t hurt.
Finally, while the trailer steers clear of plot, we can learn a great deal about the actual story from other places. Here’s the essence: Miguel belongs to the one family in his town that hates music. For some unknown reason, one of his ancestors nearly destroyed the family by pursuing a music career, so music was been outlawed in his family by a past matriarch. Obviously, Miguel is very into music, so this generates the conflict of the story. But, the means of resolving this conflict is more mystical than the standard Pixar film. Because in the land of the dead, Miguel has the chances to meet all of his ancestors and talk to them about this mysterious past. Unkrich identifies this as the key thematic element of the film. As the project developed, he though, “What if I could meet them [my ancestors], what would I ask them?”1
Along with a heavy reliance on the power of music, this promises to be the emotional core of the film. The teaser already establishes that the music of the film is going to be quite potent, but I would wager that the truly tear-jerky moments in Coco will come from Miguel meeting his ancestors, speaking with them, and bringing that knowledge back to the living world with him. It would be even more powerful if one of Miguel’s relatives had recently died, and we certainly can’t put it past Pixar to kill someone off in the first 10 minutes of a film. The idea of having that one last chance to talk with those we’ve lost is certainly emotionally powerful, and I fully expect Pixar to exploit this concept thematically. Bring the tissues.
This will be the last time I address Coco on Plot and Theme, as I would like everything else to remain a surprise (I did similarly for Inside Out, which turned out quite well). Though the film is still more than half a year from release, it has rocketed up to one of my most-anticipated films of 2017.