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Soundtrack review: Coco (Michael Giacchino – 2017)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Coco (Michael Giacchino – 2017)

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“Coco” is a 2017 American 3D computer-animated musical fantasy adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Based on an original idea by Lee Unkrich, it is directed by Unkrich, and co-directed and co-written by Adrian Molina. The story follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who sets off a chain of events relating to a century-old mystery, leading to an extraordinary family reunion. The concept of the film is based on the Mexican holiday of Día de Muertos. The screenplay was penned by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich, and the story by Unkrich, Molina, Jason Katz, and Aldrich. Pixar began developing animation in 2016. Unkrich and some of the film’s crew members also visited Mexico for inspiration. The skeletons in the film were redesigned to be more appealing.

No matter how many blockbusters he gets and how many Star Wars, Star Trek or Marvel scores he writes Michael Giacchino never forgets about Pixar and their movies; it was the TV show “Lost” and these Pixar gems that made him one of the most acclaimed and in demand composers in the world and it’s only right that he keeps doing these scores. The score opens with “Will he shoemaker?” which sets up the Mexican setting of the story with simple and fun Mariachi guitars and mandolins. It’s impossible not to like this cue since it’s your classical Mexican celebration music that is always fun to hear. I was expecting this but I am very pleasantly surprised to find a proper ambient romantic cue in “The strum of destiny”; this already brings the subtle emotions that works very well for me in an animation score. There is a very nice balance between playful and melodic in “Coco” and this makes the score quite enjoyable even for me who doesn’t always connect easily with animation scores.

“Coco” is more laid back and restrained than your usual Michael Giacchino score; but as he proved time and time again (not the very least with what is still, come November, my favourite score of 2017 “War for the planet of the apes”) he can do light as well as he can do heavy. Most of the moments in this score are light as balloons, be they playful, quieter or celebratory. Mexican celebratory so if you are into this kind of music you will love this score. No matter the tone though the score is still infectious and passes as fast as a Sunday spent in a park. The guitars and violins provide a warm and sunny texture to the album and when the music slows down and the tone gets a bit quieter and goes romantic there are fairy tale like moments like in “A blessing and a fessing”.

I am pleasantly surprised when Giacchino brings even in “Coco” some of his moments of stabbing string madness that border on horror music. “Cave dwelling on the past” (hello quirky Giacchino pun cue titles) has the darkest opening before the Mexican influenced acoustic guitar returns to temporarily bandaid the wounds. In the past years he has grown so much as a composer and I can tell it by the ease and confidence with which he juggles horror motifs with romantic motifs like “Somos familia” and with infectiously fun ones.

I like Mexican music, I like the effervescence and passion of that sound and when it’s weaved into a Michael Giacchino orchestral score that is inspirational, emotional and fun at the same time I couldn’t ask for more. I could say that I laughed and cried during “Coco” and that there wasn’t a single motif that didn’t make me feel something. For me in the past couple of years Giacchino has been in the form of his life and I can only hope that he keeps it going. Do not miss this one.

Cue rating: 90 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 33 / 58

Album excellence: 57%

Highlights:
Will He Shoemaker?
The Strum of Destiny
Crossing the Marigold Bridge
The Newbie Skeleton Walk
Adiós Chicharrón
Plaza de la Cruz
Taking Sides
Fiesta Espectacular
Fiesta con de la Cruz
Cave Dwelling on the Past
Somos Familia
Reunión Familiar de Rivera
A Family Dysfunction
Grabbing a Photo Opportunity
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Coco – Día de los Muertos Suite

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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