DIR: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina • WRI: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich• PRO: Darla K. Anderson • DOP: Matt Aspbury, Danielle Feinberg • ED: Steve Bloom, Lee Unkrich • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Harley Jessup • CAST: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Pixar proves yet again that it works best when it concentrates on original stories instead of pandering to tired franchises (Cars 3 anyone?). Though in many ways it treads similar ground, Coco is a film rich in heart, so much so that the film’s few flaws fail to take away from the overall experience. Bright colours, big emotions, and fantastic world-building means that Pixar’s newest offering earns its place in the studio’s pantheon of classics, tear-inducing moments included, as is tradition.
Coco centres on Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young Mexican boy from a family of shoemakers who longs to be a musician à la his deceased idol, actor and singer Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) – there’s just one catch… Music of all forms has been banned from the Rivera household ever since Miguel’s guitarist great-great-grandfather walked out on his family many years before. The discovery of a hidden photograph convinces Miguel that his infamous ancestor is none other than de la Cruz himself, but even this revelation cannot convince his family to allow him to pursue his musical passion.
During Día de los Muertos, the only day of the year in which deceased loved-ones can enter the living world to visit family, Miguel magically finds himself transported to the Land of the Dead. There, he teams up with a loveable ragamuffin, Hector (Gael García Bernal). The two must race against time before Miguel becomes trapped in the realm of the dead forever. Antics ensue, shocking twists are revealed and lessons about family and love are learned.
The film is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. It’s when you begin to look at individual elements that cracks start to appear, namely in the story department. The only reason there is a plot at all is because of Miguel’s family’s almost pathological adherence to a rule set down by a dead woman based on events that happened decades before practically all of the living characters were born. Talk about cutting off your own nose to spite your face. There’s also a few small plot contrivances that ring rather unoriginal, but overall the film has enough going for it that suspending the audience’s disbelief on these matters is not too much of a chore.
Despite the oversimplification of the plot’s basic structure, the film is not afraid to examine more complex themes about the nature of family, death and remembrance, which ultimately saves it from being a typical kid adventure movie with a cultural twist. Though it hardly needs saying, the animation is superb and the level of detail given to each character and background elevates the film to a much grander scale. The design of the Land of the Dead is superb and kudos must be given to the animators for making the skeleton characters look so welcoming and, well, alive.
Where the visuals really shine, however, is in the use of colour and light. Most of the story takes place at night and the film creates the illusion of artificial light that has warmth and depth to it that in hands of a less skilled studio could have looked garish. Most of the films soundtrack was penned by married duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez of Frozen fame, but despite a one or two pleasant songs the music is surprisingly unmemorable. Luckily this is not a huge deal, for even though this is a film about a musical family, it is not a musical in and of itself.
Overall, Coco is a celebration about family, those still with us and those who came before. It is a beautiful and moving tale immersed in Mexican culture yet with a universality that is sure to resonate with anyone of any background. A wonderful film for families and a wonderful film just in general.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Coco is released 12th January 2018