Bursting with the colour, warmth and passion of Mexico, Coco is gorgeous to look at – a fiesta for the eyes. Pixar’s latest animated triumph has a richness of detail in characterisation and backgrounds to rival classic Studio Ghibli and Disney. It is a film for everyone, but this story about family and the power of music will perhaps be most appreciated by adults.
If you cried during the first five minutes of Up, prepare to be moved by Coco. The rest of the time you’ll be wonderstruck, as the screen is filled with astonishing animated images. Coco shares the same feeling of sunny delight as Pixar’s first film, Toy Story (1995), but advances in technology and ingenuity mean that its humans are now rendered in believably organic form. Great-grandmother Coco’s wrinkled face and veiny hands are works of art in themselves.
On a larger scale, the heavenly splendour of the Land of the Dead is almost too much – towers of multi-coloured buildings and tracks which seem to stretch to infinity and beyond, a million twinkling lights and the occasional flying tram. The tram station itself is also magnificent. This is the work of magicians using a master painter’s palette.
Featuring the voices of an all-Latino cast for the first time in a big-budget American film, Coco celebrates Mexican folklore and culture on the Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), ‘the one night of the year when our ancestors can visit us’. 12 year-old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) and his extended family join many others in paying their respects at the local cemetery.
Much of the film’s comedy is provided by Miguel’s clumsy canine companion, Dante, a gloriously daft hairless Mexican mutt (Xoloitzcuintli), who ‘looks like a sausage someone dropped in a barber shop’. But like his master, Dante has hidden talents.
Since Miguel’s great-great-grandfather disappeared one day with his guitar, music has been banned from the house because ‘it tore the family apart’. But Miguel dreams of playing his guitar like Ernesto de la Cruz, a pop star from the past. He has a tree house hideaway where he plays along to videos and the animators make sure that his fingers form the right chord shapes and pick the correct strings to the song on the soundtrack.
When he discovers Ernesto’s famous white guitar in a family photo, Miguel concludes that he is Ernesto’s descendent and is more determined than ever to enter a talent show for the Day of the Dead. But when he takes the pop star’s guitar from the wall of a mausoleum and plays a chord Miguel becomes invisible to everyone except his dog and his skeletal dead relatives.
Coco follows Miguel’s quest in the Land of the Dead, where he must break the curse by receiving his ancestors’ blessing. In this magical place he uncovers a shocking family secret, as the film builds towards a dazzling action finale.
In the process, Pixar break a couple of Disney’s normal rules: girls in the audience might wonder why there are no young female characters in the story; its’ filmmakers also subvert the familiar Disney theme of chasing your dream. Here, family responsibility is shown to come first, and ‘seizing the day’ will just have to wait.
The film’s title is an odd one, too, considering that Miguel’s relative Coco hardly features in it. Perhaps it was meant as a message to the audience: cherish the older members of your family and keep their memory alive.