Going into this film, it was difficult to ignore how much my love of Pixar had gone stale in recent years. Since Toy Story 3 their output has been incredibly hit-and-miss, of which the hits (Inside Out) have been mild and the misses (Finding Dory) have been substantial. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to give up hope, and the way Coco (2018) invoked the world of LucasArts’ Grim Fandango hinted that it could at least be a little fun. I was delighted, then, to have my expectations blown away when Coco proved to be Pixar’s strongest, most enjoyable production in a long while.
The story of Coco follows Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old boy from a family of music-hating shoemakers who harbours a secret dream of becoming a musician. When Miguel is accidentally cursed on Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead) and ends up in the land of the dead, he is tasked with finding his great-great grandfather and musical idol Ernesto de la Cruz to break the curse before he becomes stuck there forever. Written and directed by Lee Unkrich (with Adrian Molina co-directing), Coco is a truly special story which will stay with you for a long time after viewing it.
Newcomer Anthony Gonzales is excellent in the lead role of Miguel, both acting and singing his part with confidence. He is backed up by a wonderful supporting cast of lesser known actors, with Gael García Bernal standing out as Hector, a tricky but charming resident of the afterlife who share some really great chemistry with Gonzales’ Miguel, in particular. Opting for a genuine Hispanic-American cast and forgoing big name stars was clearly the right decision here; it feels far more authentic and avoids the distraction that recognisable voices can sometimes cause in animation.
I was delighted to have my expectations blown away when Coco proved to be Pixar’s strongest, most enjoyable production in a long while.
Much of the film’s strength lies in its screenplay, and while narratively it covers some familiar ground for Pixar, it never fails to keep you consistently invested in its story. There’s plenty of creative humour and visual gags to keep the journey fun and engaging, frequently owing to the loveable stray Xolo, Dante. Though its twists are a little predictable, they still feel satisfying in their emotional significance, and the film certainly doesn’t fail to bring out that old Pixar magic when it wants to tug on your heartstrings.
Coco puts some unique spins on the theme of family, most notably with the message that sometimes even whole families and old traditions can be spectacularly misguided and wrong, particularly when founded upon hatred. The importance of remembering dead loved ones is also a lovely sentiment that the film champions, sincerely capturing the essence of Día de Muertos. For a film about family, however, it is a slight shame that most of Miguel’s family in the living world are rather underdeveloped – it feels as if so much more could have been done with them, but that they have been overlooked somewhat in the pursuit of the narrative.
Opting for a genuine Hispanic-American cast and forgoing big name stars was clearly the right decision here; it feels far more authentic and avoids the distraction that recognisable voices can sometimes cause in animation.
Visually the film is a treat, too, with a lot of artistic flair and attention to detail put into its vibrant and colourful world. The land of the dead is the perfect backdrop for Miguel’s adventure; it is a stunning realm made up of endless towering structures, each one a jumbled mess of glowing buildings, streets and bridges, and it is truly beautiful to behold. The film also marks a return to great character design work for Pixar – something which has been sorely lacking in a lot of their recent productions. The way the skeletal characters are handled is impressive, both in how much variation there is between them and how much emotion they manage to display on a skull. The inclusion of the alebrijes (spirit animals) is a stroke of genius, too, offering some of the most unique looking creatures I’ve ever seen in animation.
Music is woven tightly into the fabric of the film and its soundtrack showcases a range of traditional Mexican styles. It was clearly created with a great deal of affection and benefits from the input of Hispanic-American and Mexican composers and musicians. The recurring song ‘Remember Me’ felt a little flat at first but it did grow on me significantly after my first viewing, and in the context of the narrative it does manage to deliver a couple of powerful heart-warming moments. There are plenty of other great musical scenes throughout however, with personal highlights being Miguel and Hector’s ‘Un Poco Loca’ and a later performance of the traditional ‘La Llorona’. Unsurprisingly perhaps the soundtrack shines brightest when it delves further into Mexican styles than the typical Disney musical stuff.
In a market of Boss Babies and Emoji Movies, it’s great to see Pixar back on form and showing the competition why they’re still considered the masters of their craft. I’ll be waiting eagerly to see whether this is more than just a blip, and whether The Incredibles 2 can keep that spectacular Pixar magic going.
Coco is an awful lot of fun from start to finish and a return to form for Pixar, offering an imaginative story and a superb soundtrack with genuine heart.
If you want to see and/or read more about Coco, you can visit its official website here, watch its film trailer here, and its DVD can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK and HMV. Be sure to follow us here at PixelTome over on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to stay up-to-date with our latest news posts, features, reviews and more.