Director: Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina.
Cast: (voices of) Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía, Edward James Olmos.
|"Smell it! Smell my shoe!"|
Pixar are not only the gold standard of CG animated films; their name has become a by-word for quality cinema.
However, in the past six years you could have been forgiven for accusing the digital wizards of coasting somewhat. Since the incredible Toy Story 3 in 2010, they have wheeled out some of their least impressive films. The dire Cars 2 and the boring Cars 3, the so-so Monsters University, and the good-but-not-great The Good Dinosaur have all been released since 2011. It's only Finding Dory, Brave, and the truly remarkable Inside Out that are holding up the average over that time.
But just when you wonder whether that gold standard had lost some of its lustre, Pixar drop this incredible tale of family, memory, music and death. Coco is one of their best yet. Visually vibrant, deeply moving, and wonderfully written, it is a hugely inventive but classic-seeming saga that surprises and entertains before hitting you right in the heart in its final act.
Coco is the tale of Miguel (Gonzalez), a 12-year-old Mexican boy who yearns to be a musician. Unfortunately for him, he was born into a family of shoemakers that have shunned music ever since Miguel's great-great grandfather left his family to go and seek his fortune as a musician.
In an effort to follow his musical dreams, Miguel flees his family on El Día de Muertos (the Day Of The Dead) and is accidentally magically transported to the land of the dead. In order to return to the land of the living, Miguel must receive the blessing of his deceased ancestors. But when conditions are attached to that blessing, Miguel finds himself caught between offending his family and pursuing his goal of becoming a musician. There's also something much bigger at stake - if Miguel can't get home before sunrise, he'll be stuck in the land of the dead forever.
Coco is probably the most straight-faced Pixar film - the jokes are few and far between - and it's also one of the most mature. Up at least had Dug while Inside Out had Bing Bong, but the biggest bone Coco can throw to its younger crowd is a goofy (non-talking) dog named Dante and some wacky skeleton antics. And while it goes out of its way to be non-scary by using a light and bright visual palette, there's no escaping that this film is about death.
Thankfully it's about a Mexican perspective on death, which is far less morbid and frightening than we're used to in the English-speaking world. Not only does this viewpoint soften the central topic into something more palatable for many young (and older) audience members, but the Latino setting and cultural richness of the film is a joy to behold.
Much has been made of this being the first nine-figure-budget film to feature an all-Latino cast, which is both a welcome and "how has this taken so long?" move. The voice cast are pitch perfect, but on top of that they add authenticity to the story, making it feel more real and less like cultural appropriation. This is a celebration and a heartfelt ode to Mexican culture, from the way it remembers its dead to the value it places on family and music. View this up against upcoming Blue Sky film Ferdinand, which is set in Spain but bursting with American A-listers and tell me which one feels more authentic. Odds are it's Coco.
As well as being a rich ode to Mexico and to Latino culture, Coco is a damn fine story. It has the classic Wizard Of Oz-style hero's journey going on, but it pops with surprises even amid inevitability of its plot.
Best of all is its heart. Pixar is renowned for pulling the heartstrings nice and hard, and Coco doesn't disappoint. It's not manipulative - it's just the sheer weight of the story and what's at stake. Its key moment is a doozy, and it shows the smarts of the script - Coco's power lays in how its key themes manifest as actual plot devices, and it's an ingenious move.
When I update my Best to Worst of Pixar list, it's safe to say Coco will be very high up the list. Coco is one of the best things Pixar has ever done, and that's saying something.