Contains Potential Spoilers
Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of being a musician like his much-revered idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) but his family has a very strict no-music policy that has lasted several generations, absolutely forbidding him from playing music. On the eve of Mexico’s Day of the Dead, Miguel takes de la Cruz’s famous guitar and soon finds himself in the land of the dead and, with the help of the roguish but loveable Hector (Gael García Bernal), journeys to find the legendary de la Cruz so that he gain his blessing to pursue a life of music and return to the land of the living by sunrise.
The best thing about Coco is that it has an imaginative and surprisingly informative story that admirably brings Mexican culture to a mainstream audience, paying respectful attention to the customs and traditions surrounding their Day of the Dead (which I’ve only ever seen in film when it was briefly featured at the beginning of Spectre), admirably enlightening us about the Mexican way of life, which we don’t see too much of in mainstream cinema. What’s so admirable is that none of this is dumbed down at all and the material is aimed at both kids and adults in equal measure, perhaps even more for adults (especially with a subtle joke regarding certain things dragging on the floor . . !) and it’s very refreshing to hear so much Spanish, none of the words or sentences being overexplained or translated/subtitled.
The plot itself is perfectly fresh and exciting, focusing on that ol’ Disney/Pixar staple of breaking away from what’s expected of you from your parents, including a main character who yearns for sonething bigger and more exciting, and the film makes room for some powerful themes revolving around the importance of family and always remembering your ancestors. And it does what Pixar does best in that it manages to be genuinely heartfelt and emotion-stirring, having those slower scenes that will bring tears to many eyes, while also including a decent amount of unforced comedy – nothing absolutely hilarious but things that will make the adults (and kids) smile and chuckle; Coco is never silly and it’s perhaps the character of the dog Dante that is the most “kid-friendly” part of the film. Otherwise, the whole film is completely unpatronising and will hold great appeal to people of all ages, thanks to the solid writing and the perfectly judged direction.
The only slight issue that I had with the story was that at a certain point, it tends to get a little “side-missiony”, with Miguel and Hector having to enter a contest in order to get to Ernesto, and there’s a pivotal character revelation in which their motivations don’t quite ring true, seeming slightly thin; it’s at this point where the film follows a similar third act twist to Monsters Inc. and Up.
The characters in Coco, whilst not being quite as memorable as creations from other Pixar films, are very lively, colourful and full of genuine feeling. Our protagonist Miguel is energetic, funny, adventurous, rebellious and he gets emotional a lot of the time as well, giving the movie all the necessary feels and effortlessly getting us to support him in his quest. And alongside him, Coco has plenty of great supporting characters such as the roguish and mischievous Hector, the strong and unyielding Mamá Imelda, and the absolutely fierce Abuelita Elena – someone who you definitely wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of, lest you want her feel her shoe upside your head! And the fact that Coco boasts an almost entirely Latino cast is mighty impressive and wonderful (even though Pixar staple John Ratzenberger is apparently in there somewhere . . !)
As you would expect from Pixar by now, the animation is unsurprisingly amazing and the whole film is incredibly bright, vibrant and colourful, using an entire spectrum of colour that gives the film its energy and warmth while also using darker colours and shadows effectively in the scenes set in the “slums” – the areas for the soon-to-be-forgotten spirits. The character design is enviable, showing off intricate detail with the animation of hair, water and skin (the rendering of Mama Coco deserves a technical Oscar alone) and the locations are masterfully designed, making the film incredibly immersive, lived-in and just so lovely to look at; the technical brilliance of the film also allows certain buildings/locations to look genuinely massive, playing around with scale so that we see everything from a child’s point of view. As I say, would you expect any less from Pixar?
Of course, an enormous part of Coco is the music and here, it is wonderful. Michael Giacchino’s original score is as excellent as you’d expect and the film also has a number of lively, toe-tapping original songs and beautiful Mexican melodies that are sung beautifully by the cast, the highlights being the joyous “Poco Loco” and the now Oscar-nominated “Remember Me”, which will surely bring tears to many eyes and hopefully, it’ll take home that golden statuette (though “This Is Me” is awesome too!)