Miguel is a young boy with dreams of being a musician like his hero, Ernesto de la Cruz. However, his family have banned music ever since his great-great-grandfather walked out in pursuit of his music career. When Miguel tries to tell his family of his dreams, his grandmother smashes his guitar to prevent him from playing at the Dia de Muertos celebrations. In his rage and sadness, he runs to the tomb of de la Cruz to borrow the guitar of the famous star. However, on playing it, he finds himself stuck in the land of the dead, and now he must leave with his family’s blessing before sunrise or he will never be able to leave.
Like last year’s Moana, Coco is another animated Disney film that explores a culture that has perhaps been underrepresented or misrepresented in popular fiction. This time Pixar takes a brief tour through the iconic holiday of Mexican culture, with reference to customs and beliefs without being patronising or judgemental. There is always an issue with filmmakers making a film about a culture that they are not a part of, like Kubo and the Two Strings and Moana, films that for better or worse tried to be representative of the culture they were working with. Similarly, the team behind Coco, have tried to be delicate, bringing in cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz as a consultant, as well as Octavio Solis and Marcela Davison Aviles, key figures in Mexican American Culture, though this was after a baffling attempt to trademark Dia de los Muertos. The film, in its attempt to be sensitive, does at times feel more like a lecture of some sort, introducing those unfamiliar with Mexican culture to concepts like Ofrednas, altars where the dead family members are remembered and Alebrije, the guiding spirits.
Apart from the culture that serves as a backdrop to the movie, the film itself is a wonderful addition to Pixar’s filmography. It is a harkening back to the classic canon of Pixar films that shows that despite Cars 2, Cars 3, The Good Dinosaur and Finding Dory, they still have the ability to tell relatable timeless family films that everyone can enjoy. The story itself may have been the standard “believe in yourself and follow your dreams” narrative we have seen before in other family films, but Coco ties it down in a culture that forces a unique spin and conclusion on it.
The setting itself is similarly unique. Inspired by the bright colours of the festival, Coco is a rich tapestry of colour and light: the land of the dead is a playground for the creative team to stretch their imaginations and populate the world with vibrant Alebrijie or spirit animals or the dead themselves. These are brought to life by a great cast of Hispanic voice talent like Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Cheech Marin and like Pixar’s other child talents before him, Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel carries the film on his young back.
While many may have compared it to 2014’s The Book of Life, because that also dealt with the land of the dead, Coco stands out as its own beast: a film with all the hallmarks of Pixar’s greatest hits, heart, charm and a cast of characters that are relatable with problems and flaws that make them real. Like most Pixar films, Coco plucked expertly at my heartstrings, with a warmth and tenderness that left me with a tear in my eye and a smile on my face. This film is a feast for the eyes, ears and heart, one that is a must see.
You can watch Coco in cinemas now