I go into a Pixar film expecting a good film, maybe even a masterpiece, but I wasn’t prepared to start loving this one before the opening credits! No kidding, you know the traditional Disney intro where we pull back to reveal Sleeping Beauty’s castle, with fireworks exploding all around and Tinkerbell flying over it? The music behind the animation is always “When You Wish Upon a Star,” and it was this time, too … except it was arranged and played by a mariachi band! I was hooked.
This one is not quite up to the superb standard set by Pixar masterpieces like Up and WALL-E, but it’s close. On the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, Mexican families gather in graveyards to remember their dead relatives with flowers, pictures, food, singing, and dancing. The idea here is that there is an “other side,” inhabited by skeletons, and when no one is left to remember you, you vanish entirely, off to who-knows-where. Heaven? Hell, whatever, it doesn’t look like a good thing. So this one young man crosses over to the land of the dead accidentally, and we follow him on his adventures. Maybe a little like Monsters, Inc., except that the skeleton people aren’t really afraid of him.
Day of the Dead is a favorite for me and Lee. Hollywood Forever, the coolest cemetery in the world, hosts a party every year, and it’s really something a lot of white people could enjoy if they weren’t so uptight about death. Why shouldn’t you have fun in the graveyard? We certainly have. People set up displays honoring dead people, and a lot of fun is had by all. Here’s a link to some of Lee’s great pictures of that day:
The predominant flower on this day is the marigold, and the colors of this film are mostly deep or bright shades of orange. It is a total riot of color, maybe the best use of color I’ve ever seen in an animated film. And the detail … I keep thinking that I’ve seen it all, that there can be no more surprises in animation, and I keep getting it wrong. The level of complexity here is just about beyond description. The City of the Dead seems to go on forever, in all directions including up and down. I am very glad that we decided to splurge and see this in the theater, as we would have missed a lot even on the largest 4K HiDef screen. As it was, I sometimes wished it would slow down a little so I could take it all in. In some scenes there were more than a million individual lights.
So it is visually stunning. And as usual, there is an emotional element far, far deeper than other animators usually deliver. There is plenty of action, but they aren’t afraid to slow it all down and let us feel for these well-drawn characters. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. Of all the films from 2017 that I have seen so far, and that very much includes most of the Best Picture nominees, this is by far the best.