This was something really special.
Lee Unkrich’s “Coco” is everything you could ever ask for in a Pixar film; visually it’s spectacular, the characters are endearing and fun (except when they’re despicable, Pixar villains sure are scumbags), the plot is simple and charming, I laughed constantly, the music is both fun and poignant and interwoven nicely into the story and there are of course a good few healthy tearjerkers. The underlying message of the film, of the importance of family and that those we love are never truly gone so long as we remember them, is sweet and genuine in a way that doesn’t seem condescending like so many films can be.
I loved everything about this film; the premise is a stellar one and up there with one of the more creative ones that Pixar has come up with. 12 year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) yearns to be a musician, but his family has for generations been prohibited from anything musical after his great-great grandfather abandoned his wife and child to pursue a singing career on the road. On the annual Day of the Dead (a Mexican tradition where the living remember and honour the dead), Miguel discovers that his great great grandfather was no other than singing legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel steals Ernesto’s guitar from his mausoleum to compete in the local Day of the Dead talent competition, but upon strumming the guitar becomes invisible to his family and the townspeople but can see the ghosts of those who have died. In order for Miguel to return to the land of the living, he must visit the Land of the Dead and obtain the blessing of his ancestor Imelda. Things of course don’t quite go to plan and Miguel has until sunrise to receive the blessing of at least one of his ancestors or he’ll be stuck in the Land of the Dead forever.
While there are funny moments and characters throughout, “Coco” probably isn’t the funniest film in the Pixar canon, (that for me goes to Toy Story 4), but that’s okay as it focusses more heavily on the excitement and fun of Miguel’s journey and incorporates big set pieces and musical performances into the story. The Day of the Dead is something so unique to Mexican culture and I was excited to see it as the impetus of the story; the film is filled with colour and festivity and music, in a wonderful tribute and celebration of Mexico. The design of the land of the dead is spectacular, particularly the animal spirit guides which are intricately beautiful and terrifying at the same time (I want one of my own). The design of the living ghosts themselves are modelled cleverly off the distinctive shapes of their living counterparts, and the fact that their skeletons can fall apart leads itself easily to much of the physical comedy in the movie. As bizarre as the world is, somehow it makes sense! There are boundaries and laws and consequences in the land of the dead (Pixar does world building better than anyone else in the business), and once you as an audience member accept that, its very easy to become immersed in it.
The film is strong in its portrayal of the importance of family, but also in tapping into that very human and very daunting fear of being forgotten, particularly for the elderly in society. Death isn’t the most costly consequence in “Coco”, in fact its treated comically in many instances. Instead, the thing that the dead fear most is for their family to no longer put their photograph on the family ofrenda (a sort of shrine to remember ancestors) and thereby fading from the memory of those they knew in life. This was an interesting angle and something that really touched me, and there are moments surrounding this which I thought were the most beautiful and heart wrenching in all of Pixar (and yes I’m including Andy saying goodbye to his toys in Toy Story 3).
“Coco” was beautiful, joyous and breathtakingly original. I was completely enamoured by this film, providing a sense of complete escapism and wonderment in a way that was very welcome during these uncertain times.
By Jock Lehman