If there were ever such a thing as a Pixar dip in form, then in my opinion, it has taken place over the last two years. Looking back, the last time I was really bowled over by a feature from the famed animation studio was 2015’s masterpiece Inside Out, with both The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory failing to hit the levels of quality in the following years that I had come to expect from a Pixar production (and a quick side note, I’ve never seen any of the Cars films so 2017’s Cars 3 didn’t seem like the correct place to start). So now we are in 2018, and we have Coco, a film that for some reason, without knowing much about, I had a feeling I was going to absolutely love.
And I am pleased to report that my intuition served me well. In my humble opinion, Coco is one of the greatest animated features Pixar have ever made. Set in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, the film explores the traditions surrounding Dia de Muertos through the tale of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young, music loving boy who accidentally finds himself in the land of dead, searching for a way to get back home by gaining the blessing of his music forbidding ancestors. The film is about the importance of family and about following your dreams and passions, and it is absolutely, unequivocally beautiful in both its message and its vibrant aesthetic.
In the way that all of the very best Pixar offerings do, Coco is about so much more than an exciting adventure between a boy and his skeletal companions in a magical world. Yes, it is heaps of fun, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments to enjoy and some genuinely great Latino flavoured songs to embrace, but the film also dives in to a bunch of topics that you wouldn’t immediately associate with a kid’s movie. The narrative touches on Alzheimers and memory loss, on broken families, on dead beat dads, even on cold blooded murder, and it does so in a way that is accessible for younger viewers and poignant for adults. I’m more than willing to admit that my own Spanish heritage might cause me to feel something of a special connection with the hispanic vibe of the film, but any personal attachment I have to the world and culture of Coco does not take away the fact that the film is an utter triumph on every level.
Alongside the endearing, heart warming and at times heart breaking narrative, there is the immersive, vibrant, mesmerising, neon filled design of the world of the dead. The entire picture is a feast for the eyes and a feast for the soul in equal measure. There won’t be a single person in the world who cannot relate to one or more of the themes explored in Coco, and you certainly don’t have to have a connection to Mexican or hispanic culture to fall effortlessly in love with Miguel and his journey through the vividly imagined fantasy landscape. Don’t take it from me, but this might just be the only children’s movie in history to feature Frida Kahlo as a significant supporting character!
The list of performers who voice life in to the animated characters is an impressive one. Anthony Gonzalez as protagonist Miguel is sweet and sensitive whilst also maintaining a delightfully cheeky and naughty edge. His voice perfectly fits the character of Miguel, both in his speech and in his wonderful musical numbers. An adult cast including the likes of Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia all add heaps of personality to the picture, some taking delight in villainy and others perfectly capturing the mixture of love and discipline that being the elder of a family unit is all about.
Overall, I can’t help but be left feeling that it is something like this film which reaffirms that Pixar is at its very best when it is showcasing new and original properties. Don’t get me wrong, I love Toy Story and I love The Incredibles, but with Coco being so phenomenal and Pixar’s slate leaving no room for another original story until 2020 at the earliest, it sort of puts a dampener on my enthusiasm for the immediate future of the studio. Coco is a stunning love letter to Mexico and Mexican culture, and although the film has no doubt been in production for years, its release date and presence in the current climate feels particularly prescient and poignant. Coco builds bridges to a culture that some are trying to close out with a grotesque wall. Give me the beauty of this film over the beastly actions of those who shall not be named any day. It is joyous, it is emotional, it is charming and it is gorgeous to look at. A stunning film on the inside as well as the outside. Bravo Pixar, y muchas gracias!