Coco review: Pixar's new movie packs an emotional wallop
Review by Matthew Turner
Pixar's latest animated adventure celebrates Mexico's Day of the Dead, the holiday honouring deceased family members and friends.
In doing so, the spirit-raising fantasy single-handedly atones for years of Mexican cartoon stereotypes, from Speedy Gonzales to the wrestler's mask-wearing aircraft in Planes.
This is both highly commendable and a necessary, timely corollary to the current U.S. President's recent anti-Mexican rhetoric.
The plot centres on Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a 12-year-old boy who longs to be a musician and dotes on his great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia).
There's just one problem – his shoe-making family have banned music, because his great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife and child to pursue his dreams of musical success.
During the Dia de los Muertos celebrations, Miguel steals a guitar from the mausoleum of his musical idol Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), only to find himself cursed and magically transported to the Land Of The Dead.
After meeting his skeletal ancestors, Miguel realises he needs to seek both their forgiveness and their blessing before he can return home.
Colourful, inventive and consistently surprising
Co-directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Adrian Molina, the film is steeped in Mexican culture and addresses some sophisticated concepts, all of which are carefully explained in a way that younger viewers will find easy to follow.
The life-affirming script uses the traditions of Day of the Dead to explore some complex themes in imaginative and sensitive ways, highlighting the importance of family and of keeping their memory alive (on Dia de los Muertos, the dead can visit with the living, but only if they are remembered).
The story packs an emotional punch (Photo: Disney/Pixar)
Visually, the animation is breath-takingly beautiful, from its photo-realistic Mexico sequences to the colourful, inventive and consistently surprising depiction of the Land of the Dead.
Unfortunately, Coco can't quite claim originality in that department, as it was pipped to the post by 2014's similarly-themed (and equally delightful) The Book of Life, though that film had a romantic element that's not present here.
The voice work on Coco is exceptional, particularly Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector, a down-on-his-luck con man who agrees to help Miguel, and Bratt as the singing-and-dancing superstar whose career was cut tragically short by a falling church bell.
To that end, Pixar's commitment to representation is extremely impressive, with Pixar regular-slash-good-luck-charm John Ratzenberger the sole non-Latino member of the voice cast.
Bring plenty of tissues
It's fair to say that Coco isn't quite as funny as previous Pixar offerings, but there is a rich source of comic relief in Dante, the time-honoured (non-speaking) animal sidekick who accompanies Miguel, and is almost certainly the cutest ugly dog ever committed to celluloid.
Given the nature of the plot, this is also a more musical Pixar offering than usual, with a handful of delightful numbers from Frozen maestros Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, including the film's best song, 'Remember Me'.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Pixar movie without the traditional powerhouse emotional punch at the end.
And Coco packs a real wallop. Be sure to bring plenty of tissues.
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian MolinaStarring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Jaime Camil, Alfonso Arau, Sofía Espinosa, Edward James OlmosGenre: AnimationCountry: United StatesRelease date: 20 January, 2018Cert: PGRunning time: 105 mins