Directed by Lee Unkrich
By Christopher Spencer
Directed by Lee Unkrich, Coco is the latest Pixar film and stars Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach, and Edward James Olmos. His family bans music in their home, but 12-year-old Mexican boy Miguel (Gonzalez) knows he is a musician at heart. He idolises the dead musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt), and when Miguel tries to play de la Cruz’ guitar, he is transported into the Land of the Dead, just in time for Día de Muertos.
Pixar have really had a rough track record in the last few years. They surprised everyone with 2015’s Inside Out, but before that their last widely-loved film was Toy Story 3 in 2010. Afterwards we’ve had the serviceable Brave, Monster’s University and Finding Dory but also the pretty unwatchable Cars 2 and The Good Dinosaur. Is Coco a return to Pixar’s once great heights like Inside Out? Mostly yes, sometimes no.
Coco’s dedication to exploring the Mexican culture in the kind of way never seen before in a major movie is probably the best thing on offer. The characters, the actors behind them, the setting and especially the immense, detailed and enveloping world of the Land of the Dead is truly incredible. The first time you see it until the last time, this world of skulls EVERYWHERE, neon coloured spirit animals, wonderful music and just life in every frame is something truly incredible.
The story on display is mostly predictable, hitting the expected beats from many, many other animated movies not just in Pixar’s catalogue, but it does have a few twists up its sleeve. Coco on a story basis is by the numbers for the most part, but then Pixar rolls up its sleeves once again, grabs right into your chest and squeezes your beating heart until there’s nothing left. In just a few scenes involving Miguel’s great-grandmother, we have exactly the kind of emotional complexity yet thematic simplicity that Pixar made their brand on.
Coco’s characters as well fill in this wondrous world with equal amounts of life, love and depth. Miguel is a strong lead, thanks to a brilliant vocal performance from newcomer Gonzalez, Hector (Garciá Bernal) is just a loveable fool, Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) is frightfully ruthless in her love for her family, and a small role of Frida Kahlo (played by Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Natalia Cordova-Buckley) steals the show in hilarious scenes.
It’s pretty clear that Coco is not one of Pixar’s best. It suffers from that predictable story, some relentless pacing that rarely lets you breathe, and a few plot twists and turns that don’t make a lot of sense in hindsight. But because of that return to loveable characters, perfect animation in every scene, the unbelievable accuracy of representing Mexican culture and mythology, and some heart wrenching scenes about the love of father, daughter, mother and son, Coco is a nice, simple and special kind of movie.