Directed by Lee Unkrich.
Featuring the voice talents of Anthony González, Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Gabriel Iglesias, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos, John Ratzenberger, and Cheech Marin.
A young Mexican boy, in love with music and desperate to meet his hero, finds himself stuck in the world of the dead during the Mexican holiday ‘The Day of the Dead’ and must find his way home before he gets stuck there forever.
The late, great Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: “If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music”. Now, regardless of your thoughts on the big G, Vonnegut’s belief in the power of music is something we have all shared. Music can be a transcendent experience, one that can take us on a journey and so often, put us in touch with a part of ourselves that we never knew existed. This experience is at the very core of Coco, a movie about the power of music, love, family, oh, and the dead.
One person who has definitely had that transcendent experience is the central character of Coco, Miguel. Miguel, like many young boys, longs to play music, to serenade the masses with his voice and to share his passion with the world. His family, however, see things differently. Shackled by a generation-spanning superstition, music is banned from Miguel’s household and he is forced to play his instruments hidden away from his loved ones. Miguel has a dream though, he wants to become the next Ernesto De La Cruz, the finest musician in Mexican’s illustrious musical history. This desire leads him to De La Cruz’s gravesite on the annual ‘Día de Muertos’, or ‘Day of the Dead’ in English, and Miguel soon finds himself being transported from the land of the living, into the land of the dead.
Fans of Pixar have expressed concerns in recent years that the studio is no longer producing original content, instead relying on the power of their pre-existing franchises to get them by. Well, Coco proves them wrong in what is the company’s most original and innovative work since 2015’s astonishing Inside Out. While there are some who may argue that the movie borrows quite liberally from 2014’s hugely underappreciated The Book of Life, the movie very much feels like its own, and while the two movies may share the same setting, they are both very unique in their own ways. What sets Coco apart is its rich visuals and quietly addictive original songs. The movie is on a one-way course for a Best Animated Picture prize at this year’s Academy Awards, and ‘Remember Me’ the movie’s central song could well be on its way to Oscar glory as well.
As far as the narrative goes, Coco doesn’t spend its time strumming up some new tunes, but rather playing Pixar’s greatest hits with a slightly new twist. All the usual narrative beats are there but the film still manages to hit you right in the sweet spot as it races towards its climax. There could be an argument that the film is a little exposition heavy but considering it is juggling two worlds, I think it did a perfectly acceptable job.
What has really helped set Pixar aside over the years, though, is their world-building abilities and they are once again on display here. The world of the dead is brilliantly vibrant and filled with intricacies and hidden gems, but it’s the attention to detail when it comes to Mexican culture that really benefits this film. Far from feeling disrespectful, or remotely lazy, Coco pays attention to every detail of Miguel’s native Mexico and it really helps add an air of authenticity to the film.
And a big part of that Mexican culture, and of Coco, is family. Family is one of the central themes in Coco and once again, it handles it excellently. Miguel’s relationship with his great-grandmother, the titular Coco, is beautiful to watch and is really the beating heart of the movie. The rest of his family are padded out excellently as well, his Nan, Abuelita (literally Spanish for Granny) who won’t allow music in the household would, in a lesser movie, have been painted as a pantomime villain whereas here, the viewer can understand her reasoning and her loyalty to family beliefs. The rest of the characters are a blast to spend time with too, and there is a hilarious running gag about Frida Carlo. The strongest message that Coco delivers though, is that no matter what happens, and where you go, you should never forget your roots, and it is that which really hits you in the guts as the film plays its final song.
Finally, we come to the topic of death. Pixar has made a habit of making adult topics accessible to children and Coco is no different. The theme of death is ever-present throughout Coco and the film manages to deal with it in both a touching and often humorous way. The skeletons that occupy the world from dead are far from terrifying, in fact, they are some of the most likeable, and warm characters in the movie. The spectre of death is something that most children will not concern themselves with (rightfully so) but Coco does an excellent job of making it as a topic that isn’t going to frighten away the little ones.
Coco is another home run for Pixar. Visually stunning, thematically rich and at times, laugh out loud hilarious. The movie is smashing its way through the awards season at the moment, and it deserves every accolade it gets.
Flickering Myth Rating: Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Liam Hoofe – @liamhoofe