Best Animated Feature
PIXAR ANIMATION STUDIOS / WALT DISNEY STUDIOS MOTION PICTURES (2018)
Director: Lee Unkrich
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos
Tiempo de fiesta!
The Land of the Dead, skeletons, murders? This can only mean one thing - Disney and Pixar have created another family friendly offering. The 19th offering from the super studio is Coco, based on the Mexican holiday Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and following the story of Miguel Rivera (Gonzalez), a twelve-year-old aspiring musician desperate to fulfil his musical dreams. His family are deadset against his ambitions becoming reality and so Miguel takes things into his own hands – in unexpected ways.
Since Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt), upped and left his distraught wife Socorro (Murguía) and family behind, music has been banned by them since. De la Cruz was the world’s most famous musician (think Mexican Elvis) until his death and now Miguel has inherited the family’s musical gene. After an angry showdown during Día de Muertos, Miguel runs away to de la Cruz’s memorial in order to steal his guitar and perform in the local talent show. It all goes awry for him when, upon strumming the mythical instrument, he is transported to the Land of the Dead – where the skeletons of the deceased live death to the full and families are reunited for eternity (as long as they are not forgotten in the living world). Cursed for stealing from the dead, Miguel must receive a blessing from a deceased family member before sunrise in order to return home. However, a Fagin-esque skeleton named Héctor (Bernal) tells Miguel he can take him to his great-great-grandfather, and the journey changes everything for the young man as the power of family, music and life becomes ever-apparent.
Blending themes of life, death, legacy and family into a visually sparkling, musically boisterous movie, Coco is another positive addition to Pixar’s already impressive repertoire. Centering on Mexican culture and tradition allows a different vision to be pursued and the movie is all the better for it – there’s a rich feeling of history and folklore within each frame that adds to the ethereal feel of the movie. It’s not entirely perfect, but it does what Pixar does best – provide family fun, messages with depth and the obligatory tear-jerking scenes.
Visually, Coco is utterly bursting with colour and stunning vibrancy – it’s a rainbow explosion at times, and a purple and orange hazed netherworld at others. Scenes dance off the screen and it’s a joy to behold throughout. The music is as prevalent as ever, though this time around, the songs aren’t as memorable or catchy as what’s come before. The key song, Remember Me, is rehashed into different versions throughout (and effectively in the emotional final moments of the movie) though I have to say the version over the end credits was torturous to hear. The all-Latino voice cast are exceptional, however, whether voice-acting or singing, they hit every beat and successfully shape the characters.
The macabre nature of the movie (especially once the Land of the Dead appears) may be scary for young kids, and the messages may not fully resonate, but it certainly will for the adults. The overarching message of loving your family and remaining close to them does begin to take over the movie in a way akin to being battered with a mallet and the message of seizing the moment leads to the character who lives by the motto actually turning out to be a total goon – so, maybe that message didn’t go over too well.
There’s a lot to enjoy with Coco, and elements that didn’t fully pay off, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. Once more, it’s stunning to look at, this may be Pixar’s best-looking offering of them all. A jubilant burst of colour, music and a celebration of life and legacy, Coco may not have you dancing in the streets but it’ll certainly leave you with a warm feeling – and maybe a longing to give your folks a call.
January 7th 2018