After some sequelitis in the form of Finding Dory and Cars 3, Pixar is back in a whole new world in the new animated adventure, Coco. Set against the Mexican festival of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), Coco shows that there’s lots of life left in Pixar’s storytelling.
Coco is the great grandmother of main character Miguel (12-year-old Anthony Gonzalez), and the spotlight is all on him. Miguel has dreams of becoming a musician, but music was banned in his family after his musician great-great grandfather left his wife Imelda and daughter Coco to chase fame and fortune. It turns out that a picture of his great-great grandfather (with the face torn off a long time ago, in rage) shows the same guitar as famed singer-songwriter and film star Ernesto de la Cruz. One day, Miguel breaks into De la Cruz’s tomb to steal the guitar to take part in a competition against his grandmother’s wishes, but stealing from the dead gets him cursed and he ends up in the land of the dead.
It’s a pretty straightforward tale – Miguel has to escape or else he’ll die, but things get in his way. But Coco is mesmerising, especially when seen through the lens of the colourful Mexican culture. Miguel’s town of Santa Cecilia feels appropriately real, but it’s when you dive into the Land of the Dead that things get visually amazing. The little touches – the movement of the skeletons, Spanish words thrown in fluidly without needing translation, the wonderful Alebrije as well as Miguel’s Xoloitzcuintli (hairless dog) – help the film really come to life (pun intended).
It’s this magic that makes Coco a winner – there’s quite a lot to see, even while the plot moves along. Miguel’s misadventures can feel contrived at times, but there’s enough to keep you distracted as the dots are connected. If you’re a fan of telenovelas (or even K dramas) you might see where the story is headed long before it gets there. But that’s ok, because Coco has lots of heart.
For even as Miguel strives to achieve his dream, he learns that there are things that can be just as important. Coco’s core is about how meaningful family is. From the time when Miguel gets to meet relatives he’s only seen in pictures, to the times when he catches up again with his flesh and blood, that’s where the film really hits home. It’s something nuclear families in Asia can appreciate, and for me, watching as the film reached its climax, it struck me to see how similar the experience is. I might not have dreams to become a musician (most of the time), but many of us have given up something or other for family, and we know that it is worth it.
And amid all the laughter, there’s another weighty topic at hand. In the land of the dead, you will die a second death if there’s nobody on earth who remembers you. Death is not an easy topic to approach in an animated movie, and Coco treads carefully.
Directors Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and (first timer) Adrian Molina have obviously poured their heart into this film. Unkrich’s ability to write a tear-jerker definitely shows – the climatic scene of Coco had the entire preview screening in tears. One could hear sniffles (or sobbing sounds that obviously weren’t coming from me) throughout, under the loud bawling coming from one corner. But this isn’t some cheap cry – Coco the movie works up to that moment, and it pays off.
In some ways, it’s weird that Coco is only being released now – weeks after Día de Muertos. If anything it would have been an eye-opener for many of us, especially for those who missed Book Of Life in 2014, or the Lucasarts classic Grim Fandango. But timing or not, Coco is a gem – a window into a whole other rich and vibrant culture. But that doesn’t change the impact of the movie, and it’s something you should watch with your family. It’s a lovingly animated movie that’s full of heart: The kids will love it.
Note: The preview screening did not include the Frozen short film, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. Looks like we’ll have to head back to the cinemas for it!