It’s probably safe to say that the days of Pixar being the greatest animation studio in the world are long behind them. Though they knocked it out of the park with Toy Story 3 in 2010, the next seven years would be a hodge-podge of subpar sequels/prequels and passable originals (with the possible exception of the astounding Inside Out).
Since it also covers the exact same subject matter as 2014’s The Book of Life, it does seem like Coco might just be another example of a Twin Film with a few additional years in-between releases. Fortunately though, it only takes a few digs beneath the surface to realise that Coco has a lot more to offer than it originally seems.
Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a boy with a dream. He wants to be just like his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous musician Mexico has ever had.
But alas, due to a music-obsessed ancestor running out on his wife and child, Miguel’s family hates music and don’t see it as viable career. His grandmother, Abuelita (Renée Victor), enforces this view with unwavering commitment, preferring Miguel to enter the family business of shoe-making.
Upset, Miguel decides to enter a local talent show in celebration of Día de Muertos (The Day of The Dead). But he needs a guitar, and decides to “borrow” one from the mausoleum of de la Cruz. But his actions somehow remove him from the real world and trap him with other long dead souls in the Land of the Dead.
With time running out, Miguel teams up with charming trickster, Héctor (Gael García Bernal), and attempts to try and find a way home.
Directed by Lee Unkrich (and co-directed by Adrian Molina), Pixar’s 19th feature film immediately stands out from previous offerings due to its integration of songs into the proceedings. While musical interludes are par for the course in most animated fare, Pixar have only really embraced songs in Toy Story 2, where the unloved Jessie sings her heart out in “When She Loved Me.”
But the use of songs in Coco breathes a sense of wonderment into what is already a strong life-affirming screenplay (which is impressive, considering the entire film is technically about death!) From the upbeat Un Poco Loco, to the soulful Remember Me, each song becomes an intricate part of the journey that Miguel embarks upon.
Said journey is essentially a tale of culture clash, the unmovable traditions of old fighting to contain the burgeoning excitement and dreams of the young. It’s a story, not just familiar to those cultures with strong family ties, but also to anyone that has tried to fight the desire within to choose personal fulfillment over family commitment. As such, Coco doesn’t come off as a film just for families, but also a film about families. The struggles, the pain, the tears; but also the laughs, the hugs and the moments you treasure for years to come.
Visually, Pixar continue to dominate like no other studio. Even before Miguel reaches the Land of the Dead, the sun-kissed portrayal of a small Mexican town are a delight to behold. But once he crosses over to the other side, it feels like a whole new realm opens up. As soon as we cross the petal-made bridge that connects the two worlds, a palette of fluorescent colours pop at each turn, with vibrant images demanding your attention in every scene. It says a lot for the production design that the world of the dead can feel so much more alive than the world of the living.
Filled with wit, wonder and mind-blowing attention to detail, Coco is a stunning achievement on both a technical and storytelling level. Despite the family-friendliness, the film isn’t afraid to address themes like fear or loss, thus resulting in a truly unforgettable slice of animated magic.