After amassing an incredible filmography and changing the landscape for animated cinema and how audiences consume it, Pixar Animation Studios have rightly become a giant in the field. Since breaking new ground with Toy Story, the studio has created an array of sublime features that have gripped the heart and excited all ages. So it seems a bit puzzling that, of late, the studio has been considered to be uneven. In the years following the mesmerising Toy Story 3 in 2010, the studio has undeniably opted for more prequel or sequel work than before, instead of the mostly original stories of which they are most renowned for. Yet, despite this over exaggerated idea that they have lost their touch, Pixar has only ever really stumbled majorly with 2011’s surprisingly cold Cars 2 and they most assuredly still have the power to amaze. Enter Coco, Pixar’s best work since Inside Out.
Amidst accusations that the film is a rip-off of 2014’s The Book Of Life, both works similarly concern themselves with Mexican traditions surrounding Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and while Coco is undoubtedly similar at times, Pixar’s film is a far more emotionally developed work. Focusing on young Mexican boy Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), Coco tells the story of his secret passion for music, as he idolises late film/music star Ernesto de la Cruz. However his family see music as a curse, due to an unfortunate ancestral occurrence many decades back but Miguel cannot ignore his calling and, after a disagreement with his relatives, he runs away to chase his dreams but one bad choice sees the living boy enter the surprisingly colourful land of the dead, where he must find a way to return the world of the living before sunset, or else he will be trapped there forever.
Despite the plot starting off quite slow and Miguel’s initial entry into the land of the dead being played more broadly for silly laughs, the film eventually comes into its own. A double barrel plot twist not only heads to some rather dark territories for the studio but segways into a concluding scene that is Pixar’s most moving sequence since the “married life” montage in Up. Coco is a film with a great big heart and a respectful approach to the culture it takes its inspiration from. The imagination on display is dazzling and the constant celebration of the Mexican heritage feels wonderfully inclusive to all, as it celebrates these beliefs and depicts death as a whole new journey for all of us…and in the most visually accomplished way!
Though there is far more to Coco than the studios, now expected, visual splendour. Michael Giacchino’s exciting score rouses, just as the various songs dotted throughout pop with energy, glee and soul…we dare you not to tap your foot or bob your head to the track “Un Poco Loco” or muster a tear for “Remember Me”. Then there are the characters and what a host of lovable and charismatic personalities, each brought to life (so to speak) by a voice cast that feels enthused and in on the film’s warm embrace of this culture and what it can offer audiences of any age, gender or creed.
Miguel is a fine lead character and a good role model, who makes mistakes but most importantly learns from them. While other brilliant characters include Miguel’s instantly lovable street dog accomplice Dante, the unlucky land of the dead inhabitant Héctor (Gael García Bernal), the assertive Imelda Rivera (Alanna Ubach), Benjamin Bratt’s musical icon Ernesto de la Cruz (a character that is a loving tribute to early Spanish language cinema) and Miguel’s great grandmother Mamá Rivera (Ana Ofelia Murguía).
The vitality on display here is joyously infectious for all ages and once again, Coco is easily another film we can rank as a Pixar classic. Otro ganador de Pixar!