By Jack Dignan
I’m so thankful that Coco is good. I really am. It’s not necessarily because I had my doubts about what the film’s quality would be like, or that I thought this would be the beginning of the end for Pixar, but simply because before Coco begins, instead of playing a Pixar short film like usual, we get a 22 minute Frozen “short” film. And my god was it insufferable. It just never ends. So, by the time Coco begun, I needed this film to be good, purely for the sake of my own sanity. And, thankfully, it’s fantastic.
Over the years, Pixar have explored a number of different colourful realities, full of monsters and talking fish and toys that can come to life. Some may even argue that they’re set in the same universe. I would agree with that. But that’s beside the point. One of the things Pixar have yet to explore is that of the Mexican day of the dead, a festive season celebrating and remembering the ancestors of old, and that’s where we begin with Coco. We follow the story of a young boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalaz), whose desire to follow his dreams will lead him on an adventure you can only dream about.
In Miguel’s family, music is outlawed. Ever since a long ago relative abandoned the family to peruse a career in music, hatred towards it has been passed down through the generations, but Miguel doesn’t follow in his family tradition. He doesn’t want to be a shoemaker like all those before him. He wants to be a musician, just like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). So, on the day of the dead, Miguel flees from the celebration in search of Ernesto’s guitar, but his path leads him on a supernatural discovery, and Miguel finds himself trapped in the land of the dead, where the deceased roam free as talking skeletons.
Within the land of the dead, skeletons require permission from their relatives to return to Mexico, for if there’s no photo put up of your past self, you can’t return to visit your loved ones. While trapped in this world, Miguel runs into an old skeleton named Héctor (Gael García Bernal), who claims he knows somebody who could help send Miguel home. The two of them embark on a musical journey in a way only Pixar could do, full of heart, humour and wonderful visuals, making this an instant Pixar classic in the making.
For the first half an hour, maybe even forty minutes, Coco dwells with a lot of familiar themes and plot elements. We deal with a family who don’t support our hero’s dreams, an idol who might just have a deeper connection, a boy lost in a world he doesn’t know and an elderly relative who serves as our hero’s closest friend. It’s been done before. The film isn’t bad and I was never bored, but there’s a strong familiarity throughout all of the plots references. It’s burdened with the task of setting up such an elaborate plot that it requires a great deal of exposition, making it not nearly as exciting or impactful as I wanted it to be.
It takes a while to find its feet, but once it does, Coco is phenomenal. This is a very family-oriented story that tugs on the heartstrings in typical Pixar fashion while also telling a colourful, exciting adventure with belly laughs one minute and tear-jerking plot twists the next. I found myself always half a step ahead of the plot, able to figure out what was coming a mere moment or two before it actually happened, but the emotional resonance remained strong. The entire third act is all one giant tug on the heartstrings. If you don’t get at least watery eyed during the finale, you’re lying.
The music is sparse, but effective. This isn’t necessarily a musical, but more so a movie that happens to have original music in it. Music does play heavily into the themes and the overall plot, and the emotional payoff is beyond satisfying, yet it does so in a way that never overburdens the plot. Screenwriters Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich put character in the forefront. We follow Miguel and Héctor on this journey, and what a journey it was. While recent Pixar endeavors haven’t always provided us with the most memorable characters, Coco fixes that. You’ll fall in love with these guys from the moment you lay eyes on them, and the dog in the movie is an absolute standout.
While this film did hit home for me, one of my biggest issues with it is that it feels way too dark to appeal to kids. I’m not talking dark in a Coraline sense, where it plays out like a horror film for kids but a kids film nonetheless, I’m talking about this being a thematically deep and very adult story disguised as a kid film. Pixar delve into some very heavy topics, including death, dementia, the afterlife, murder and betrayal, a lot of which won’t hit kids in the same way it’ll hit adults. There weren’t very many kids at my screening, so I may be mistaken, but I’d be very surprised to see them enjoying this movie or getting as much out of it as I did.
But can I fault a movie for not appealing to others, when it certainly appealed to me? I’m not sure. As a kid’s film, I can’t comment on whether or not it’s effective. There’s probably enough surface level fun and adventure for them to find enjoyment, but this is a film much better suited for older audiences, and hence the reason I enjoyed it so much. Coco, in my eyes, is simply sublime, and I really do wish to experience it again. I’ll just have to show up 22 minutes late.
Like the article? Make sure to spread the word on social media.
You May Also Like: