Coco

Coco
Coco
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Starring Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor, Anthony Gonzalez, Alanna Ubach, Edward James Olmos and John Ratzenberger
In UK Cinemas January 19th, 2018
Watch on Amazon or iTunes

by Michael Anderson

Pixar remains the movies’ closest equivalent to a sure thing, setting a mould of relentless creativity and emotional heft with Toy Story back in 1995 (nineteen ninety-five!) and pretty much churning them out ever since. If the late-00s imperial phase of Wall-E, Up and Toy Story 3 has since subsided to a slew of needless follow-ups (Cars somehow managing two soulless sequels of Ouroborosian product placement) the brand remains untarnished, their audience keen. It is certainly a confident studio that pitches a family film whose protagonist falls into a skeletally-inhabited land of the dead, but as Inside Out proved, when Pixar leave their comfort zone, special things can happen.

Our hero Miguel is the youngest of a shoemaking household who for reasons of narrative and emotional import are the “only family in Mexico who hates music” – making Miguel’s secret guitar talent and super-fandom of golden age superstar Ernesto de la Cruz a tricky proposition. Torn between his passion and respecting his beloved family, Miguel enters a local talent competition celebrating Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and amidst the skull-painted flesh-and-bood revellers finds himself visible to the deceased who have travelled to visit the living. Events conspire to set Miguel on a race against time, for his own sake and those of family members dead and alive…

Coco meets Pixar’s high standards in most respects: the Land of the Dead is a spectacularly realised, vaguely steampunk metropolis, brimming with sight-gags and background detail, mining classically Pixarian fun in the posthumous mimicry of real-life drags and – lest you find airport customs and interminable bureaucracy too child-friendly – a running Frida Kahlo joke, while for younger viewers Miguel’s slapstick street-dog Dante is along for the ride and does well with limited material that roughly amounts to falling over a lot. There is a fair amount of exposition, though – rescuing the eternal souls of your family while also redeeming the very concept of music in their eyes is not as straightforward as you might think – and at times its middle section the film cries out for a nip/tuck, or genuine comic foil to Miguel and his companions.

Pixar films are more emotionally literate than your average 34-year-old, and sure enough beneath the laughter and eye-popping scenery Coco develops a central cluster of heartfelt characters, as Miguel unravels his family’s founding myth in a blur of chases, ballads and revelation. Much has been written of Pixar/Disney’s fundamental role in introducing death to its young viewer, from Bambi to Up, and the emphasis here on celebration/remembrance vs. mourning/sorrow is refreshing, if mitigated by the tremendous fun many of the dead seem to be having. Perhaps the only bum note is a too-neat resolution of the otherwise well-drawn and cataclysmic conflict between Coco‘s central tenets – ‘family is everything’ and ‘follow your dreams’ – but the emotional outpouring at the climax ultimately carries all before it (and at least avoids the Inside Out accusations of a family film aimed at adults).

Coco might not be classic Pixar film, but for its fearlessness and lack of both source material and obvious merchandise opportunities it deserves to be celebrated – which it already has been: the Oscar will surely follow the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature. We would do well not to take this level of casual excellence for granted.



 

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