19th January 2018 (UK)
Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family's ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find a legendary singer.
Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Animation behemoths Pixar dance with death in Coco, an effortlessly charming tale outlining the importance of family, the agony of regret and reveal why the phrase “never meet your heroes” is a smart one to live by.
Young Miguel dreams of a successful career as a musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. The only problem is, his family is dead against it due to an ancestor sacrificing family life to pursue musical fame. When the local talent show comes around Miguel decides to follow Ernesto’s advice by ‘Seizing The Moment’ and performing. With no guitar to use, he takes the drastic measure of borrowing de la Cruz’s instrument from a shrine – and after a mysterious chain of events finds himself in the afterlife during the annual Day of the Dead festival.
While there, he meets trickster Hector who promises to help Miguel back home on the condition he takes a picture of Ernesto back with him; the reason being, the dead cannot travel over The Bridge to the land of the living without a relative having a picture up to remember them by. Hector yearns to visit his daughter and due to a family argument, his picture has never been put up. Together they travel through the afterlife to get the young boy blessed by a family member which will allow him to go home. The task must be completed before sunrise, or else Miguel will be stuck in the afterlife forever.
Pixar has never shied away from tackling tough subject matters while doing so with the utmost sensitivity. Inside Out dealt with the expression of emotions and, to an extent, depression while Wall-E warned of individual responsibility towards the environment and to not take things for granted. Coco is no exception: the topic of death is handled with as much care as a priceless porcelain plate and presented in such a way that even the youngest of viewers can understand.
The highest levels of respect are given to the Mexican tradition of Día de Muertos too, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to classify this as a new yearly viewing by those who celebrate the festivities. Contrary to Coco’s trailer claims, however, the colourful world of the Day of the Dead has been shown already in the 2014 animation The Book of Life and the two would be perfect family viewing.
The voice work is unsurprisingly top notch, with 12-year-old Anthony Gonzalez leading the pack as Miguel. It’s hard to believe this is young Gonzalez’s first major role after a handful of appearances in short films, as his voice is so authentic and natural to the character. He’s backed up by confident voicework from the likes of Gael García Bernal (Amores Perros), Benjamin Bratt (Traffic) and Alanna Ubach (Meet The Fockers), and his character is complimented with an obligatory Pixar sidekick in the form of dopey dog Dante. Fortunately, Dante’s inclusion is a restrained one and his few comedic moments are perfectly timed to relieve the heavyweight emotional scenes; and boy, does Coco pack a tearful punch in places.
Although it never quite reaches the emotional highs and lows of previous Pixar offerings, Coco nevertheless has some memorable lump-in-throat and teary eye sequences – one specifically exhibiting Pixar’s unmatched ability to make us care about characters that have minimal screen time. It is in these moments where Coco is at its strongest and most raw when it is not concerned with trying to juggle the admittedly overloaded bag of narrative threads it weaves. There are a few strands which could have been discarded to make it a more streamlined picture, but the explosions of colour and energetic pace on display are an easy distraction from the weaker aspects of the film.
Music is a major part of the film and catchy tunes permeate every pore of Coco. The centerpiece composition is a touching song called Remember Me, and its simple lyrics will resonate with anyone who has ever loved and lost. It has deservedly gained an Oscar nomination, but the award is looking ever more likely to go to The Greatest Showman‘s This Is Me. As lovely as it would be for Coco to pick up the accolade, the song’s meaning and relevance will no doubt have you reaching for the tissues to wipe away the tears – which is a sure sign of success regardless of any statue wins.
Ultimately, Pixar’s knack for making even the most difficult of subjects simple to digest for all without ever patronising to younger audiences is on full show here. A stellar first feature vocal appearance from promising young talent Anthony Gonzales leads the all-around impressive voice work and while the story isn’t quite the unforgettable tale we’ve come to expect from the company, Coco is a vibrant celebration of life, death and everything in between.
A respectful and emotional tribute to the Day of the Dead festival
Fantastic debut by rising star Anthony Gonzalez
Drags a little in places
Would have benefited from streamlining some plot points