A heartwarming, vibrant, visual spectacular.
A new year means a new Disney Pixar film. Out of all the studios, Pixar has never really lost any momentum, continually showing their means to tap into nostalgia with mostly effective sequels (Finding Dory, Monsters University, Toy Story 3). But also investing time and effort into original outings, with 2015’s Inside Out being one of the most successful and touching animated films around – “Take her to the moon for me” anyone? Coco, the new tale from the studio, continues this trend, being both a feast for the eyes, a delight to the ears, and a joy to your heart.
Aspiring musician Miguel, feeling imprisoned by his family’s deathly disdain for music, finds himself in the Land of the Dead, trying to find his dead great-great-grandfather who so happens to be a musical legend in Mexico.
The film is heavily inspired by the Mexican festival, the Day of the Dead, and thankfully its respectful homage to it’s cultural significance is never in doubt. It is also the first nine-digit budget film to feature an all-Latino cast, which includes young Anthony Gonzales and the more seasoned Benjamin Bratt. The voice acting across the board is fantastic, at times balancing the enthusiasm needed for the more outlandish sequences, but also tapping into the raw emotion needed in the more sensitive moments.
Immediately, the kaleidoscopic array of colour is more of a character than just setting. Arguably, its the finest animation every seen on film, from the agonisingly cute and ugly dog Dante, to the flourish of amber leaves, to the most beautiful, life-like, yet heavenly water you’ll ever see, its various settings allow for this level of imaginative work. From the more low-key scenes of the gentle light of candles and the warmness of the small town to the grand spectacle of the Valerian-like Land of the Dead, the sheer capacity of the power its beauty carries certifies the film as a classic on its own.
But that’s before you think about the themes the film tackles. Miguel must find his great-great-grandfather/musical legend, Ernesto De La Cruz, in order for him to give his blessing for Miguel to return to the living and play music. However, his family’s hatred for music comes from Ernesto’s abandonment of his family decades earlier. As such, they have banned music from their lives as it has only brought them misery.
It’s when Miguel steals Ernesto’s sacred guitar that he is transported to the Land of the Dead, where he is reunited with long-dead members of his family – in skeleton form. Skeletons could be a terrifying sight for young children, but their loving nature puts you at ease straight away. For a kids film, like Inside Out, Coco is both a form of entertainment and an effective lesson in how to deal with emotion. While Inside Out was about balancing the need to be happy and sad, Coco deals more specifically with death, a daunting concept which Pixar masterfully and acutely teaches.
Although there’s a definite playbook for Pixar romps, Coco manages to be both an enjoyable and surprising adventure, with some late twists and turns which make it a more fulfilling time – a mean feat considering the talent in all areas of the film’s production. There are some fairly standard chase sequences and a couple of lulls in the narrative, but when the staggering beauty of animation carries these scenes, you’ll struggle to take a smile off your face. The music on offer is a constant treat, with the film’s main tune, Remember Me, up for an Oscar this year. From energetic to soothing, melancholic melodies, it is yet another aspect of Coco which is spot-on.
It’s a hugely ambitious animated feature, tackling animated environments the sheer scale of which is normally restricted to big-budget sci-fi affairs, but also seeking to answer existential questions about what comes after death in a admirably sensitive and genuinely lovely way. Don’t be too surprised if you’re wiping a few tears from your cheeks when the credits roll.