UK Release Date: 19th January 2018
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Writer: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía
Synopsis: Angry at his family’s disdain for music, a young boy finds himself transported into the land of the dead, where he tries to track down a legendary music star he idolises.
Pixar has become mired in a world of sequels and franchise expansion in recent years, with only the bright spot of Inside Out shining in among the black cloud that has hovered over the likes of Cars 3. With that in mind, Coco was by no means a sure thing. It has had an interesting path to the screen, causing controversy when Disney tried to trademark the name of the ‘Día de los Muertos’ celebration for merchandising and being heavily criticised for the lengthy Olaf’s Frozen Adventure short it came packaged with in America. The film, though, is a smart and soulful tale of music and memory that is up there with Pixar’s recent best.
The film, from Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, is a visually and thematically colourful exploration of Mexican culture – specifically the Day of the Dead. Comparisons with the recent Guillermo del Toro-supported animation The Book of Life are apt, but Pixar’s gift for heart and soul shines through in Coco far more than the visually inventive, but narratively lacking, 2014 film.
Coco follows Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who is a young shoe-shiner in a Mexican village. He loves music and idolises world famous singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). However, his family abhors any mention of music due to past family trauma and this ban is strictly enforced by Miguel’s grandmother Abuelita (Renée Victor). Miguel runs away from home on the Day of the Dead and ends up trapped on the wrong side of the dimensional divide. He joins forces with scoundrel Héctor (Gael Garcia Bernal) in an attempt to convince a member of his music-hating family to help him get home.
Pixar’s latest animated adventure is simply charming from start to finish. The premise is related in fairytale style, before giving way to Miguel’s struggles with his own love for music and his family’s hatred of the art form. His love for a seemingly infallible celebrity is something that’s very real in today’s culture of ‘stans’ and fandom, while also communicating the power of artistic expression in this world. The musical sequences are joyous and imaginative, pregnant with significance for the characters, as well as popping with visual style.
The film’s most compelling element, though, is its sensitive and innovative handling of the Day of the Dead. Unkrich and Molina’s ‘Land of the Dead’ is as layered and complex as the inner workings of the human brain in Inside Out, with mythology that serves to deepen the poignancy of another elegant Pixar construction. Little touches of bureaucracy and complexity to the underworld leave a real impression behind. Coco has a lot to say about the significance of memory and how grief helps to keep memories alive, making it perhaps an interesting companion piece to the incredibly different, but thematically similar, drama A Ghost Story.
That’s not to say that Coco is perfect, with it perhaps lacking some of the slam-dunk humour that is expected from a top-level Pixar film. It also follows a fairly standard animated movie formula, with the expected mid-movie character shifts rather easy to predict, though it does pull the rug in more interesting ways when the third act comes around. It’s a nakedly sentimental movie, but one that is so thoughtful and full of soul that it’s impossible to criticise it for wearing its heart on its colourful sleeve.
Pop or Poop?
Pixar is back with the vivid bang of a Mexican fiesta in Coco, which is an inventive and intricate story of the importance of memory, peppered with emotional explosions of musical art. The film is set within a blisteringly clever world, realised with innovation on a visual level as well as in narrative tricks and touches.
The message Coco leaves behind is emotionally resonant and certain not to leave a dry eye in the house when the final guitar string twangs.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.