Pixar have an amazing track record for producing excellent films that are both commercial successes and critically praised. As I write this I haven’t seen a film released by them that I would consider bad, and this sets them apart from all the other studios producing computer animated films.
One reason for Pixar’s strength is the fearlessness of creating unique worlds and telling self-contained stories without the desire to build franchises. Yes, I know that a few of their films have spawned sequels (and a prequel), but unlike a lot of studios in general they take their time with each project and spend it developing the story at its heart. As such one of my most anticipated films of 2018 is The Incredibles 2, and as long as Pixar continue not to rush their projects in order to reach release dates, then I welcome all of their future films with open arms.
Pixar have done something relatively new with Coco by releasing a story with roots in Mexican culture (although of course there will be comparisons with The Book of Life (2014)). If I have truly enjoyed a film then I find it difficult to review without giving away spoilers, but take comfort in the fact that this is one film where you will definitely get your money’s worth.
Coco tells the story of Miguel (Gonzalez) who is a young kid with a passion for music and aspirations of being a star – following in the footsteps of the deceased Latin musical legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt). However, due to an event in his family’s past, music is forbidden in his household. Even so, Miguel wishes to enter a local music contest on Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) and attempts to ‘borrow’ Ernesto’s guitar from his tomb. Upon touching the guitar something supernatural happens, which leads Miguel to the underworld, where he must go on a journey to return to the land of the living and is helped along the way by deceased musician Hector (Bernal).
Despite my description of the plot, this film isn’t as morbid or macabre as some may believe, and although the film is rated as PG in the UK due to mild threat and violence I’d deem it suitable for all audiences.
If I could describe the overall theme of this movie it would be family. From the beginning there is an implicit message about the collective strength of Miguel’s family, past and present, and as an audience we are reminded of the importance of families sticking together and remembering the stories of those members who are no longer with us. We are educated as to what Día de Muertos is and its importance in Mexican culture, and this story just simply wouldn’t work if told within another cultural context.
Without preaching it makes us welcome and accepting of both the worlds and environments of the living and dead, and as expected with any Pixar film the visuals are stunningly gorgeous. Films like this stand out as being labour of loves from all the crew involved and the 6 years it has taken to bring this film to the screen have been well utilised. The attention to detail is amazing and the whole aesthetic of the underworld is unlike anything I have seen. The colours are vibrant and each character looks unique and individually identifiable, even though they are all essentially skeletons wearing clothes.
We get a grand look of scale on how this underworld operates and just wait until you see the many colourful spirit guides. Keen eyes will see Easter eggs from Toy Story (1995) and other Pixar projects, and no doubt we will all notice a lot more background details upon repeat viewings.
The story and plot beats may be familiar to some but there is something pure at heart within this tale and how it’s told. Miguel defies his family in order to fulfil the dreams that are inspired by his idol Ernesto. As with many stories this call to adventure leads him to truly step out of his comfort zone and ultimately realise the importance of family, and as such they are all more connected and stronger and by the end of the film. In fact, it gets quite emotional.
Besides being another excellent Pixar production, for me this film stresses the importance of understanding other cultures. This film will educate audiences across the globe of the importance and significance of more than Día de Muertos, and I feel that death is something that we don’t often talk about in the western world, let alone celebrate.
Unsurprisingly Pixar (unlike other animation studios) have used Latino actors to voice all of the major characters and as such this should open up their previous movies to global audiences. Anthony Gonzalez is spot on for Miguel, and his voice never comes across as whiney or arrogant. Benjamin Bratt is great as the charismatic superstar Ernesto de la Cruz but the stand out for me is Victor, who is voiced by renowned actor Gael García Bernal. If you don’t know who he is go and see Y Tu Mamá También (translated title: And Your Mother Too – 2001) and The Motorcycle Diaries (2004).
What Pixar continue to do is tell fresh stories to global audiences without fear, and they are allowed to nurture and develop these stories over a number of years until they are right for us to experience.
This process is risky for many other film studios as tried and tested formulas work, but what we have with Coco is another excellent film which is colourful, musical and emotional, and is well worth your time.
Overall Verdict: Pixar have done it again by creating another masterpiece which educates and reinforces the strength and love of family. Its supernatural setting is nothing but a joy to see and add in some great characters, songs and stand out moments, this is one of their best.
Reviewer: George Elcombe