4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD copy; 2017; PG for thematic elements; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: All good, but the commentary with Director Lee Unkrich, Co-Director Adrian Molina, and Producer Darla Anderson on Blu-ray Disc One, and “A Thousand Pictures a Day” on Blu-ray Disc Two are standouts.
THE STORY of the latest Oscar-nominated animation from Disney-Pixar seems almost too familiar. A bright, talented kid finds serious opposition from family/caregiver/mentor, rebels and runs off on his/her own to succeed in their dream.
But stick with “Coco,” co-written and co-directed by Lee Unkrich from his original story, and the rewards are rich. If you’re not bawling your eyes out by the finale – in a good way – there’s something wrong.
First off, although it’s set on Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, this is not “The Book of Life,” released in 2014. It is a much more accurate presentation of the celebration, “not a Mexican Halloween,” as we learn in the bonus features. Twelve-year-old Miguel Rivera, voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, loves music although his family is dead set against it. Decades past, Miguel’s great-great grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was left to raise her three-year-old daughter Coco when her husband left to pursue a career in music. Imelda learned to make shoes to support herself and her child. As the family grew, she passed those skills along, establishing a lucrative business.
Imelda also passed along a ban on music, which the family – especially Miguels’ Abuelita (Renee Victor) takes very seriously. She wields a punishing shoe like a gunslinger – or, like grandmothers in other cultures, a wooden spoon to thwack obedience into miscreant children. And adults.
Great-great Grandfather’s picture has been torn out of the family photo, leaving a gap in the Rivera’s ofrenda, the alter set up to welcome deceased family members on the Day of the Dead. The musically-gifted Miguel is certain his long lost grandfather is none other than legendary musician/movie star Ernesto de la Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt. (Who knew Bratt could sing so well?) When Abuelita smashes Miguel’s guitar, the boy steals Ernesto’s guitar from his tomb to compete in a talent contest. This disrespect on a sacred day immediately transports Miguel to the Land of the Dead.
There he is aided by a Xoloitzcuintle street dog, Dante, and the skeletal Héctor (Gael Garcia Bernal), who once played with Ernesto. He also meets his dead relatives, still ruled by Imelda, who can no longer cross to the Land of the Living since Miguel’s theft has cursed them. Miguel must receive Imelda’s blessing so he can return and replace the guitar. But it comes with a catch: he must give up music, which the boy refuses to do. Miguel promises to help Héctor if he’ll help him find Ernesto. Héctor is desperate to return on this special day – a feat he has been unable to do – to ask his daughter’s forgiveness before he disappears completely. Spirits cannot exist unless remembered among the living, and he is now fading.
That’s when things become really complicated. The secrets Miguel uncovers are jaw-dropping!
“Coco” is available – and looking good – in all formats save 3D. But nothing tops the 2160p/HDR-enhanced UHD presentation. This is the 4K that sold me on the format. Although I appreciate the upgrades seen in live-action films such as “Darkest Hour,” “Coco” is superb.
Disney-Pixar went all out on “Coco’s” palette. Mexico’s Day of the Dead is amazingly colorful with its sugar skulls, pennants, ofrendas and marigold bouquets. Among the extras, the creative team talks about their field trip to Mexico, particularly in “A Thousand Pictures a Day.” Here we see a village where no house is allowed to be the same color as its neighbor. All buildings are bursting with color. Likewise, the screen explodes with gold, pink, orange, turquoise, green, purple – every shade you could imagine.
Detail is exquisite throughout in settings, costumes and delicate etchings seen on the bright white skulls. Black levels are deep, and shadows look natural. So do the complexions and garb of the living; flesh is amazingly lifelike.
Blu-ray visuals are equally good; just take the color level down a few notches. Dimension and contrast is more flat. Still, if you didn’t have 4K to compare it with, it would be excellent.
Formats include English Dolby Atmos; English and Spanish 7.1 True HD and Dolby Digital Plus, and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks. The Atmos track is only found on the 4K; obviously disappointing in a couple of ways. Ceiling speakers lift viewers up into the Land of the Dead, with its spiraling stairways and fantastic flying spirit guides (alebrijes).
Still, the 7.1 tracks are very lively, providing immersive effects, dialogue and music throughout the room. Music, with its Oscar nominated song “Remember Me” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (“Frozen”), is as much a character as Miquel, Héctor and others. When Immelda finally sings, we’re treated to a rich voice that reinforces her strength.
Dialogue and singing are clear and distinct. Original music was composed by Michael Giacchino of “Inside Out,” the 2009 “Star Trek,” “Cloverfield,” and “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Traditional and contemporary Mexican artists, songs and melodies also compliment mood and activity.
This soundtrack is distinctly aggressive, ranging from light sweetness to dynamic bass.
All bonus features are found on the Blu-ray movie disc and an additional Blu-ray disc. There are a lot of them from the simple “How to Draw a Skeleton” and “How to Make Papel Picado” to more than 30 minutes of deleted scenes, which feature an earlier musical concept. “Dante” provides a closer look at the dog in the film and the unique Mexican breed that inspired him. The audio commentary with Unkrich, Co-Director/Writer Adrian Molina, and Producer Darla Anderson has info on the research trips to Mexico, changes to the story along the way, effects and music, voice work and character details.
“A Thousand Pictures a Day” and “Land of Our Ancestors” spotlights the creators’ trip to Mexico, what they encountered and learned about the culture. Afterward, the Pixar crew assembled their own ofrenda in the studio to honor their loved ones. “Fashion Through the Ages,” “The Music of ‘Coco,’” and “The Real Guitar” showcase authentic traditions and how they were used in the film. “Mi Familia” allows the filmmakers to compare the rules they had to follow growing up with “Coco’s” characters. “You Got the Part!” shows young Anthony Gonzales getting the role of Miguel.
This wasn’t Disney’s first 4K release; that distinction belongs to their first triumph, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.” “Coco” not only maintains, but exceeds the standard. The familiar story is filled with surprises, while accurately portraying Hispanic traditions. After past flubs, Lalo Alcaraz, Octavio Solis and Marcela Aviles were hired as cultural consultants.
Disney-Pixar’s accomplishment results in an Oscar nominated animated film that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.
- Kay Reynolds