There was a time Disney Pixar was pumping out hit after hit and snatching awards like it was nobody’s business. But then they ran off the road with the awful Cars 2 and since then things have been hit or miss, with only the brilliant Inside Out being a clear winner. Thankfully they had a strong return to form with the musical fantasy film Coco.
Coco is based on the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and features a 12 year-old boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) who accidentally ends up in the Land of the Dead. It is directed by Lee Unkrich who co-directed Monsters, Inc. and Finding Nemo and then made his solo directing debut with Toy Story 3, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film. Here is my spoiler-free review in four slices/en cuatro rodajas:
Rodaja Uno – Muy hermosa animación
It is more than two decades since Pixar blew audiences away with the jaw dropping animation in Toy Story. In that time they have only improved their skills and Coco, ay dios mio, is gorgeous. The characters are polished and detailed, the colours are spectacularly vibrant and the settings have weight and depth.
The Mexican town feels lived in and real, and the Land of the Dead is such a dark, neon -lit Gothic skeletal wonderland that it would make Tim Burton salivate. Just open your eyes and drink in all the visual wine that is the world of Coco.
Rodaja Dos – Viva La Mexico
Being an American company doing a story set in Mexico with Mexican characters Disney had to ensure they were on their cultural ps and qs. Thankfully they did their research and the story, characters and dialogue all feel authentically Mexican. They even throw in Spanish words and phrases every now and again which I appreciated. It also features an all Latino cast and catchy Latin music which helps add to the authenticity.
But what really stood out to me was the central themes of family and honouring and remembering relatives who have died. Miguel’s extended family, and their relationships with each other, feels like it was drawn from Mexican reality and not (ay caramba) transplanted into it. So if you were worried about cultural insensitivity and cringe-worthy stereotypes then worry no more; Coco pays full respect to its origins.
Rodaja Tres – Una gran historia
Being a writer and a fan of fantasy/science fiction I really appreciate good world building and Coco does a skillful job of establishing the Land of the Dead and its various rules. The film walks a fine line of making the world complex enough to be interesting, but not too complex where it would be overly confusing for some of its younger viewers or even some of the older ones. The plot is really interesting as well and threw in a couple of twists which I did not see coming. Fool me once Pixar, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
And the movie does not just play with your heartstrings; it grabs them and wrings them like a wet tee shirt on laundry day. There was a scene, you’ll know it when you see it, that transported your friendly neighbourhood reviewer Julien to Waterworks City, Sprinklerland, United States of Tissues. I have something in my eyes. Just leave me alone alright!
Rodaja Cuatro – Oscuridad y luz
Coco is a terrifically enjoyable film with very likable characters, some cool action and adventure, a few musical numbers that actually push the story forward, and some bone tickling humour (pun very much intended). But it is still a little boy walking around in a land of walking skeletons who come to visit you one day out of the year if you put up their picture on the ofrenda (a collection of objects placed on a ritual altar). And there is also a discussion of how some of the characters died and it was not always natural causes. That’s some dark subject matter there, especially for children who did not grow up with Día de los Muertos. So I will caution that it may be somewhat off putting for very young children.
With that addendum I will say that I had a time and a half with Coco and it is proof that Pixar can still wow audiences with a beautiful, intensely touching and thoroughly entertaining story.
Rating: Coco gets 4.75/5 esqueletos bailando (skeletons dancing).
For my review of Finding Dory you can click here.