Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina.
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.
Like a Mexican Footloose, music is banned in the world of young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) because of the sins of his legendary guitar-strumming idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), who abandoned his family in pursuit of fame and fortune. Unperturbed by such rules, Miguel pursues his dream of becoming a musician, all the way to the land of dead, where he must heal generational rifts in order to return home before he’s trapped in the underworld forever.
Disney have always had that magical touch when it comes to the concept of death; whether it’s Bambi’s mother, or Coco co-director Lee Unkrich’s own existential masterpiece, Toy Story 3, and now The Magic Kingdom, holding hands with Pixar of course, will walk you through the land of the dead in the most wonderfully comforting fashion imaginable.
The Footloose comparison isn’t a frivolous one; at the heart of Coco is a will to inspire creation, against your own better judgment and any oppressive forces around you, and for Miguel that just happens to be music. As well as this, all of the usual Disney morals (be yourself, love your family) are bundled into a colourful package, which along with Blade Runner 2049 and The Florida Project, features one of the most unique visual palettes of the year.
Case in point is the moment in which Miguel drinks in the scope of the land of the dead, a purple and blue hued haze of lanterns and dwellings that feels like an animated town a level below Spirited Away. There are also the usual subtle Pixar touches, like the simple, repeated fun had with skeleton bones, or the beautiful pathos of spirits tending the gravestones of their family members.
The obscure veneer in which Coco packages a familiar story is why you stick with Miguel’s adventure, for grown-ups at least, the jokes can become tediously slapstick, but you’re rewarded in a completely unexpected way by the time he comes to journey’s end. It’s a crescendo of pure humanity, that’s completely earned. In a story about death, emotions could have been cheap, but Coco delivers such a subtle wallop that you’ll want to head home and hug your grandma.
Unfortunately, the characters aren’t the most memorable the studio have ever produced; Miguel is cool and kids will find him relatable, but his sidekick dog’s only trait is stupidity, and not in the loveable way that Moana’s HeiHei was. The biggest takeaway will be Gael Garcia Bernal’s Hector, who has the least obvious arc of any of the characters, with charm at the heart of his roguish personality; he’s Coco’s Baloo the Bear. There’s a moment during which he plays a song to an ailing friend that’s heartbreaking in a way that only Pixar seem to be able to achieve.
Coco is perhaps a little too long, but is punctuated with such rich creative and cultural brushstrokes, sweeping you up in a tide of emotion, that you easily forgive the fact it isn’t quite up there with the studio’s best.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★★★ / Movie ★★★