This coming-of-age story has some darker edges but doesn’t forget the slapstick, writes Darren Bevan.
It’s no surprise that Pixar’s latest, Coco, was released on Thanksgiving in the United States and Boxing Day in New Zealand.
With its themes of family, remembrance and multiculturalism, the animated film is a timely reminder of the things that matter, all wrapped up in some truly incredible, naturalistic visuals and coming-of-age story-telling.
It’s the tale of Anthony Gonzalez’s Miguel, a musical dreamer who’s part of a family that’s banished all music from their lives, after one of their relatives had a musician other-half who deserted them. Shaking off his destiny as a family shoe-maker, Miguel decides to borrow a guitar from Ernesto de La Cruz, the former town crooning legend and his idol.
But breaking into his tomb on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Miguel finds himself trapped in the Land of the Dead. Tracking down his relatives, he discovers there’s a way back, but time is running out.
With its gorgeous autumn hues, oranges and purples, and with a hint of darkness in its heart, Coco is a truly emotional experience.
Settling more for a slightly adult experience — a la Kubo and The Two Strings and 2014’s under-appreciated The Book Of Life — Coco’s rich blend of resonance is deftly and smartly executed.
With deep reverence to the Day of the Dead festival, and some drama and conflict ripped from the pages of a Spanish telenovela, the Pixar film’s message of ‘Grab it tight and make it come true’ is one for the ages — and for all ages.
Pixar needs to be commended for creating something different once again.
It may be that some of the music, for such an integral part of the film, doesn’t exactly shine like it should, but Coco’s heart is purely and squarely on its sleeve. Tapping into the memory aspect of the Day of the Dead tradition — as well as a beautiful representation of what it all means, why it’s so important without turning into a cultural tolerance lecture — is a great move for Pixar.
But wisely, they don’t forget the slapstick — from a street dog called Dante with a giant flapping tongue, to a colourful flying tiger beast that stalks Miguel in the Land of the Dead. It may be some of the darker edges do frighten younger members of the audience, however.
Maybe skewing a little older is no bad thing for Coco. Certainly, the emotions are rife later in the piece when talk of being forgotten by generations on Earth, as the last link is severed, is devastating. And Miguel’s great-grandma appears to be afflicted with dementia, furthering the tragedy of forgetting. Equally, one sequence within involving the last link being cut is truly emotive and yet also inspiring — this is the line Coco treads with ease and aplomb.
Ultimately, though, Coco’s coming-of-age tale of tolerance and embracing your roots is a joyous and rich experience. It’s one that throws in a buddy tale, as well as giving you a baddie to hate on. Pixar needs to be commended for creating something different once again. And while the perks of doing so may be slightly lost and harder to come by for those seeking traditional animated fare, those willing to invest more into proceedings will find their rich reward, thanks to an animated universe that, ironically, teems with life in the Land of the Dead.
In short, go loco for the unconventional Coco.
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina