Across the history of Disney, the quality has been kept high, although there are obviously going to be ups and downs. High points for me would be various songs and pieces of music from The Aristocats, Toy Story, The Jungle Book, Moana, Robin Hood, Pinocchio, The Little Mermaid, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, for example.
Following this long history of animated musical films, comes Coco, directed by Lee Unkrich and written by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, Jason Katz, and Matthew Aldrich. Music for the film was principally written by Michael Giacchino (Up, Inside Out, Zootopia, Ratatouille, The Incredibles), with songs written by Germaine Franco, Adrian Molina, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez.
The story centres around Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), a 12 year old aspiring musician. He sets off on a journey of discovery to find out the true story of his family history, as well as to become a great musician like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Based in and around the Mexican “Day of the Dead”, the music and film are infused with all the rhythms and instrumentation you would expect.
Oscar winner Michael Giacchino brings extensive experience to this score, as you would expect with his history of great Disney music, and he gives the right flavours and rhythms here. Some of the pieces seem incomplete on their own though, and would no doubt make much more sense in the context of the film. (Not having yet seen the film, this is an important consideration. I’m sure my appreciation of some of the cues will change once I understand how they are used dramatically and thematically.)
The music was created with input from Camilo Lara of the music project “Mexican Institute of Sound”, and with the help of cultural consultants Benjamín Juárez Echenque and Marcela Davison Avilés, illustrating a dedication to authenticity and expanding the musical palette with more modern sounds.
Generally, the music on this album is much more of a score than you would get with a musical, even though music and songwriting is at the heart of the film. Out of 38 tracks on the soundtrack, only 8 are songs, with one having 4 different versions.
Luckily the song that has 4 versions on the album is the standout song, “Remember Me”, which I fully expect to be turning up across everyone’s lives, much like “Let It Go” did. If you’ve ever been in a band that has played Disney music (as I have!), then “Remember Me” will be added to your set fairly quickly due to demand, and I would hope the main version (with the Benjamin Bratt vocal) is the one that does the rounds. The other versions include a lullaby (with Gael Garcia Bernal), a “Reunion” (sung by Anthony Gonzalez), and a more pop version by Miguel and eight-time Latin Grammy winner Natalia Lafourcade.
Overall, this a good album, with some great work by Giacchino, although it doesn’t entirely hang together without the film for context. I would have also preferred there be more songs, but at least the songs we do have, such as “Remember Me” and “Much Needed Advice” are executed well and will stand up against other well-known Disney fare.