I’ve always been drawn to Mexican culture, especially its music. So, when I saw the trailer for Coco, Disney-Pixar’s latest animated feature, I couldn’t wait to see it. And even though it’s not included in Dolby’s online list of movies graded in Dolby Vision HDR and mixed in Atmos immersive sound, I presumed it would be presented that way in Dolby Cinemas. After all, Pixar’s Inside Out was among the first to receive the full Dolby treatment over two years ago.
Coco tells the tale of 12-year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), whose family has been making shoes for four generations. Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife Imelda (Alanna Ubach) and daughter Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia) to be an itinerant musician, which led Imelda and subsequent generations of the Rivera family to be cobblers—and to hate music. But Miguel loves music and longs to be just like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous Mexican musician of them all. He has passed away, but he is revered with a magnificent mausoleum.
The story is set during the early-November festival of Dia de Muertos—Day of the Dead—when the living display photographs of their departed loved ones, who can then cross over from the Land of the Dead to visit their families. Miguel secretly tries to enter a talent show, borrowing Ernesto’s guitar from the mausoleum, but he soon finds himself among the dead—traditional skeletons called calacas—who are visiting on this special day.
He crosses a bridge of shimmering marigold petals to the Land of the Dead with members of his family who have passed on. He tries to return home with the help of Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who can’t enter the Land of the Living during Dia de Muertos because no one has displayed a picture of him there. The ensuing story is a classic hero’s journey with some unexpected twists and turns.
I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of Coco—the story, the music, the visuals, and the authentic, respectful representation of Mexican culture. I especially appreciated that all the voice actors are Latino, which gives the English dialog completely convincing accents. It must be even better in Spanish! Most of the writers and co-director Lee Unkrich are not Latino (except Adrian Molino, who got screenwriting and co-directing credit, and he co-wrote some of the songs), but they hired consultants who kept things true to the culture. The creative team also visited Mexico several times and visited families there to make sure they were on track.
As Unkrich recounts in a Vanity Fair article, “We absorbed details in every place that we visited, but the most valuable thing was the time we spent with Mexican families. Every one of them was kind and open and excited to share their traditions with us. A lot of the details from those visits ended up being a part of Coco.”
The images are truly spectacular in Dolby Vision HDR. In particular, the vibrant colors in the Land of the Dead are kaleidescopic, and the endless cityscape of towers and Mesoamerican pyramids is breathtaking. I especially enjoyed the glowing, riotous colors of Pepita, Imelda’s fearsome and fiercely loyal spirit guide, which is based on the mythical alebrije depicted in Mexican folk art. Also, the blacks are super-deep, and shadow detail is exceptional in dark scenes.
Likewise, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is wonderful. It fills the theater with sound effects of Pepita flying around and characters falling. And the excellent score by Michael Giacchino, which has lots of Mexican influences, extends throughout the auditorium. (As a side note, the songs are not mixed far into the room, but they are beautiful examples of the songwriter’s art.)
Unfortunately, I received a call on my cell phone as it was measuring the sound levels. I had silenced the phone before the movie started, but the call stopped the measurement with an hour left to go. I learned the hard way that I must forward calls received by my cell phone to avoid this interruption in the future.
For the hour and a half of data I did collect—which included the trailers, an animated short called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure (which is derived from the movie Frozen and not very good, IMO), and part of Coco—Leq (average RMS level over the entire length of the measurement) = 90.4 dBZ (flat), 79.5 dBA, 88.5 dBC; Lmax (maximum 1-second RMS level) = 116.7 dBZ; L10 (level exceeded 10% of the time) = 89.0 dBZ; L50 (level exceeded 50% of the time) = 78.1 dBZ. The partial measurement was well below reference level, and the volume was very comfortable for me during the entire movie—without earplugs!
Coco gets my highest recommendation; it’s one of Pixar’s best, a real delight. The story is full of warmth and heart—it brought a tear to my eye at the end—as it explores the importance of family and celebrating those who have gone before us while remaining true to ourselves. It’s also really funny—especially Miguel’s dog, Dante, and the appallingly familiar bureaucracy in the Land of the Dead.
If you are near a Dolby Cinema—for a list of locations, click here—by all means, see it there; the Dolby Vision HDR and Atmos sound are stunning. At the screening I attended, I met a Pixar employee who works on the studio’s DCPs (digital cinema packages, the digital files delivered to theaters). He told me that Dolby Cinema is closer to what the creators saw as they were making the movie than any other commercial presentation, which didn’t surprise me in the least.
Be aware that it’s probably playing only during the day—at least, it is in my local Dolby Cinema—because it’s generally considered to be a children’s movie. Justice League is still there in the evening. But don’t be fooled; Coco is more mature than a typical kid flick and well worth seeing, even if you don’t have youngsters to bring along.
Check out the official trailer: