Director: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía Running Time: 109 minutes
Though they have been drawn some criticism in the last few years for their reliance on sequels, Pixar can still be relied on to create imaginative worlds filled with fun characters, as the beloved Inside Out proved not so long ago. They also, crucially, never talk down to the kids that there films are aimed at (okay, apart from the Cars series, mostly), imparting lessons without moralising, giving something to take away from viewings beyond bright colours and catchy tunes. Their latest feature Coco is as colourful as they come, and even leans slightly more in the Disney direction with the number of songs it features, but rest assured, this is a Pixar movie with both a brain and a heart. Even if it doesn’t always look like it, considering how many skeletons are around.
Many animated films have a simple story about being true to oneself and finding out where you truly belong, but Coco makes it sincere by narrowing down and specifying. It’s a bit more compelling when you don’t feel like you belong within your own family. Miguel Rivera is an aspiring musician in a family of shoe-makers, a family that-for reasons outlined in the film’s introduction-hates music. You see, his great-great grandmother Imelda Rivera was once the wife of a musician until one day he left her and her daughter, Coco, to pursue a career in music, never to be heard from again. Imelda made a success of herself and her family, but made sure that all music was forbidden, a rule passed down and imposed on Miguel by his grandmother. Miguel harbours a secret obsession with Ernesto de la Cruz, a Mexican idol of song and screen from days gone by, and gets it into his head that the dead megastar and the dead great-great grandfather are one and the same. After nicking a photo of the pair and Coco from the family ofrenda and an attempt to make off with Ernesto’s famous guitar (is this the most family friendly movie ever made that features grave robbing?), Miguel finds himself trapped in the Land of the Dead, while spirits are crossing over to the other side for the Day of the Dead. Miguel’s family on the other side, including Imelda, now only have until sunrise to bring him back before he’s trapped forever, but Miguel and his street dog companion Dante head off in search of Ernesto, guided by Héctor, a perpetually down-on-his-luck skeleton who supposedly used to play with Ernesto.
The early-going of Coco requires a lot of explanation, both of the rules of the world and generally of Mexican culture to those in the audience who won’t be familiar. Once it gets moving, it’s a fun adventure, and the Land of the Dead that Miguel travels through is one of the most vibrantly animated settings that Pixar have put together in some time. It also feels like the ‘biggest’ world that the studio have made to date; even the literal ocean didn’t feel as expansive as Coco‘s glowing land of cobblestone streets, decadent mansions, slums and cityscapes. The way that the characters move through the world really shows the extent that Pixar animation has changed over time, with the camera making frequent ‘realistic’ movements as Miguel pushes through crowds and runs from danger. As far as cinematography is concerned, there is little difference between this and live action, with CGI more fluid than anything you’re likely to see this year.
For as many superlatives as can be given to the movie, ‘original’ would probably be a stretch. Grown ups are likely to see some of the story beats coming from very early on, particularly as they have seen them in many other Pixar movies. The kindly old authority figure that turns out to have a dark streak is a staple for the company (possibly for a reason) and the climax features a sequence that they literally already did 17 years ago. Though to be fair, that is before the target demo’s time. And it should be said, the lawyers of the filmmakers mouse-eared overlords no doubt want to be clear that neither they, nor anyone involved in the production nor you have ever heard of a film called The Book of Life. But the film is still a genuine celebration of Mexican culture, packed with iconography, rich music and even a supporting role in the story by Frida Kahlo. Once the emotional aspects of the story kick in, the familiarity of some parts of the story all melts away, or more accurately, is washed away by floods of tears. This is a story about what it means to be remembered. Miguel might think he wants the mass adoration of his idol, but there’s a more intimate way to be remembered than fame and once the film starts delving into that, when it doubles down on its family first approach and reveals the significance of the titular Coco, its as moving as anything that Pixar have ever done. Fitting a sweet and personal story into a sweeping theme-park ride through Mexican culture makes Coco a considerable achievement, not quite in the top tier of Pixar films, but certainly one worth remembering.(4 / 5)