Review: Coco

A sophisticated, visually dazzling fantasy adventure that dives into the heart of Mexico’s Day of the Dead mysticism. Ebullient music, a fearlessly adult narrative and an eye popping colour palette keep Coco in the high pedigree of major studio animation.

When Pixar goes it alone with new storytelling, the results speak for themselves. Up, Inside Out, and Wall-E in particular sidle themselves up nicely next to their latest offering Coco as films that confront mortality head on, and fearlessly explore the legacy of human existence within a finite time frame.

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich co-directs here with Adrian Molina (both are Pixar stable hands in editing and writing respectively) and have framed a mystical adventure around the Hispanic tradition that both dispels the morbidity that might surround it and celebrates the true meaning of The Day of the Dead.

We’re in a nondescript town in Mexico where young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is the youngest in a trigenerational family of shoe makers whose family history has a tragic story of a musician who left his wife and young daughter to pursue his dream of playing to the world.

The family no longer listens to or encourages music in any form yet, deep in Miguel’s heart, he is a mariachi – a born musician. Following the advice of his hero Ernesto De Le Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a long dead national hero and musician/film star, Miguel sets off to prove his worth by stealing Cruz’s guitar from his crypt.

When he does so on the Day of the Dead Festival, Miguel is mystically transported to the City of the Dead and meets his ancestors whereby he has the day to find his way home, discover who his real Great Great Grandfather is and prove to his family that music isn’t the curse they believe it to be.

Traversing themes of family, mortality, memory, aging, poverty, death, greed, passion, love & loss, self belief and vitality, Coco‘s core story is unashamedly adult. It’s a signature move of Pixar in building adult drama into family films, and it is executed here with aplomb. The story is dressed with comic relief and a bright production design as to make it digestible to older kids yet there’s enough motion in proceedings to keep younger tots distracted (though the story will go over their heads). Yet, that’s the trick, Pixar films don’t play down to the audience.

Packed in with bilingual songs (such a refreshing change) that come at you in English and Spanish, Coco riffs on Elvis, nods Frida Kahlo, and keeps the pace as rapid as it can. Supported by a voice cast that also features Gael Garcia Bernal, Gabriel Iglesias, and Edward James Olmos, the film polished is enhanced by their presence.

Whilst the trajectory of the story may feel somewhat familiar (semi-astute viewers will know from the outset where this is going), it’s what Coco does within the frame that makes it that little bit more special. It’s a plush, visual splendour equipped with a palpable emotional arc and great songs that’s well worth your time.