Disney Pixar have some excellent films to their credit; 2015’s Inside Out, 2003’s Finding Nemo and the Toy Story franchise are all beloved family-film fortes of the American computer animated studio. Fulfilling such high expectations is Coco, Pixar’s latest feature dealing wonderfully with themes of family and death – proving yet again that films aimed at children do not have to be childish.
Far from the scare-floor of Monsters, Inc. and the long-term memory landscape of Inside Out, Pixar’s Coco takes us to Santa Cecilia, Mexico. Miguel (voiced superbly by Anthony Gonzalez) is a young aspiring musician finding himself under unfortunate circumstances; belonging to a family with an an ancestral lineage of musical repression. His days of practising in secret however are one day confronted when he finds reason to believe that the greatest musician of all time, the legendary Ernesto de la Cruz, may just be his great great grandfather. Taking this as a sign to make his talents public, he goes in pursuit of a guitar, but instead of finding himself competing in the local talent show, finds himself stranded in the land of the dead amidst the annual Day of the Dead celebrations. To complicate matters even further, in order to return to the world of the living and begin a journey of musical success, he must receive the blessing of none other than de la Cruz himself – a man that, even in the land of the dead, is very hard to reach.
The film begins as something similar to Herbert Ross’s Footloose, and gradually enters the territory of Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Besides entering the realm of fantasy, the films exposition is committed in providing a culturally insightful and considerate lesson for its audiences. It introduces the audience to the significance of Mexican beliefs of the Day of the Dead festival, and the importance of contributing pictures of loved ones to the family Ofrenda; a ritual altar to guide the dead back during the Dia de los Muertos celebrations. It is wonderful to see Pixar committing to the exploration of other world cultures, but doing so in an accessible and colourful fashion to engage and entice young audiences. Coco is a visual feast, drenched in streaks of colour and basking in a comforting orange glow. Worlds of reality and fantasy are conceived with such creativity, yet, it is the blurring of these two worlds, and the humbly imaginative beliefs of the Mexican characters of the film that make the film so captivating.
Miguel’s journey is evenly bookmarked with enjoyable musical numbers, and help enforce the importance that music has to the culture explored throughout the film, with it being established in an introductory sequence that, in the plaza, there are Mariachi’s everywhere. The fantasy world is vibrant and gorgeous, but the genius of Pixar is the attention to life itself, for all its beauty and sorrow. The theme of memory handled so well with Inside Out is returned to here, and it is said that being forgotten in the land of the living is “the final death”; a heartfelt declaration suggesting that to live on in the hearts of your loved ones is to live for eternity. Such details are heartbreakingly handled throughout, and convey important messages of family and belonging – it is clear from the start that Coco is a film with such a concrete moral compass, and will strike a chord with the youngest of children and the oldest of parents. In fact, families going to see this will feel a strengthened bond in the wake of its tender resolution.
There are a few moments of slapstick that feel unnecessarily tacked onto scenes of emotional resonance, but such instances will be sure to raise a chuckle from its young target demographic; and admittedly, it does sometimes shy away from the emotional devastation prominent in Inside Out. Yet, this is a dizzying, intelligent and gratifying piece of work, one that will be treasured for generations – Coco is a force for good in a year that will bring us such animated films as Sherlock Gnomes, it’s important not to take that for granted.