A Pixar film that deals with family, loss and death? Well, the question is no longer if I am going to cry, but now it’s when and for how long?
And sure enough, through the course of Coco you feel that knot in your stomach grow before you crumble into a blubbering mess. A wonderful blending of a dark and complex story with gorgeous visuals and powerful themes produces arguably one of the best animated films of 2017. While it may not rank as highly as The Incredibles or any Toy Story picture, Coco is a bright shining spot on an otherwise dark year (off-screen) for Pixar Studios.
We follow Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old Mexican boy who lives with his family of shoemakers and, more importantly, music haters. The film’s namesake is Miguel’s Grandmother, Coco, who we are oft reminded was left by her father, a musician who walked out on her and her mother to pursue his career. Thus, this family’s generational hatred of music began.
Being a Pixar movie, it’s no surprise that Miguel’s lifelong dream collides with his family. He wants to grow up to be a musician like his hero, the “greatest musician in Mexican history”, Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). During Mexican holiday Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Miguel wants to prove his worth by singing in a competition during the festivities in the town plaza. Sans instrument, Miguel decides to steal De La Cruz’s guitar from his mausoleum. However, once strummed, Miguel finds himself trapped between the land of the dead and the world of the living, desperate to get back before sunrise. What is he willing to risk in order to get home?
The true star of the film is the story itself, as Pixar manages to avoid clichés and expectations at almost every turn. For a film that has come from the Disney factory, the storyline is far darker and more layered than others the studio has produced. The standards of family and togetherness that are present in most children’s films is here, although it’s lent a different angle as Miguel’s love for music often outweighs doing what his family desires. Directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina do a wonderful job of consistently leading you down a familiar path, where you are reminded of how basic and even bland this film could have been, only to have the rug pulled from under you pull with twists and turns that service the film to no end.
Pixar continues its trend of producing jaw-dropping animation, creating a breathtaking world populated with some wonderful and memorable characters. But the filmmakers also manage to convey their respect and love for the culture they are representing. The film feels authentically Latino, from the architecture to the visuals, right up to the cameos from such legendary figures as Frida Kahlo and El Santo.
The use of the “forbidden” music adds to the quality of the film, not only from an aural perspective, but as a beautifully used plot device. While Disney have been known to cram song after song into some films, Coco uses songs sparsely and effectively, giving them the gravitas they deserve. The wonderful use and progression of the song “Remember Me”, for example, and what it means to the plot itself, will lead to the aforementioned blubbering mess.
But, there are some flaws. From the beginning, there were always comments of it being too reminiscent of the visuals of Book of Life, and there are also thematical comparisons that can be made to 2016’s Kubo and the Two Strings. The slapstick humour also drags on a bit too much and there are a few convenient plot turns that are never really explored or explained, but none of these issues really undercuts the film enough to hold back its quality.
Despite feeling a little familiar and perhaps rehashed, Coco is still a fantastic and warm film that really speaks to its audience. It is a special experience that blends fun and heart into a film that all can enjoy, and it’s a wonderful addition to Pixar’s already stellar slate.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10