When you're in the Land of the Dead, you sing like your life depends on it. Photo: Walt Disney Studios
Pixar movies used to be the highlight of my movie year. They were the beacon of originality and creativity in the face of the increasingly soulless summer action blockbusters we are bombarded with every year.
Then came the sequels – Cars 2 and 3, Monsters University, Finding Dory… and my enthusiasm for Pixar movies was gradually whittled away. There was still the occasional spark – Toy Story 3 and Inside Out, for instance – but it’s safe to say that the aura of invincibility that Pixar used to exude has begun to wane in recent years.
Just when I had written 2017 off as another disappointing Pixar year (sorry, Cars 3), along comes Coco to save the day and bring the animation studio back from the dead.
Inspired by the Mexican Day Of The Dead celebration, the story is about 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who dreams to be a musician like his idol, global superstar Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).
There’s only one problem – ever since his great-great grandfather left his wife and daughter Coco to pursue his musical dreams almost a century ago, music has been banned within his shoe-making family.
Then, during the Day Of The Dead, Miguel decides to join a singing competition and breaks into de la Cruz’s tomb to “borrow” his guitar, an act that transports him to the Land Of The Dead.
There, he meets his dead ancestors, as well as a bumbling trickster named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), and embarks on a quest to get de la Cruz’s blessing to get home.
Miguel had no bones about taking a blessing from his Great-Great Grandma Imelda. Photo: Walt Disney Studios
Visually, Coco is beautiful. The land of the living is richly animated and Miguel’s interaction with his family members feels natural and heartfelt, even during their more estranged moments.
It’s the Land Of The Dead that really takes your breath away though – from the bridges of Aztec marigold flower petals linking the two worlds, to the vibrant colours of the buildings and its skeletal people, there is so much to take in with each scene.
The story, about the importance of family and knowing one’s history, is also a poignant one. It is further enhanced by the rich supporting characters, and the original songs peppered throughout the film (I’m tipping the poignant Remember Me for next year’s Best Original Song Oscar).
My initial instinct was to compare Coco to 2014’s The Book Of Life, another animated feature based on the Mexican Day Of The Dead. The similarities between the two are there, no doubt – both use music as a central theme, both involve someone crossing over to the Land of the Dead – but I love both movies for different reasons.
The Book Of Life was visually stunning and entertaining as well, but Coco resonated with me on a much deeper level.
Who needs confetti cannons when you’ve got magical flying flower petals? Photo: Walt Disney Studios
You see, recently, I’ve been revisiting Pixar’s past catalogue, in an effort to try and get my three-year-old daughter to watch something other than Moana and Frozen for a change (speaking of which, there’s a brand new Frozen short titled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure screened before the film).
So far, she’s not cared much for my personal favourite, Wall-E, but has loved Finding Dory and The Good Dinosaur, and enjoyed Brave and Inside Out.
Anyway, it was a different experience watching these films with her. The little giggles during the funny moments, the inquisitive and incessant “Why?” questions, the widening of eyes during the fantastic moments, and the occasional whimper of fear during the scary scene … it got me to look at these films through the eyes of a child, and made me realised just how magical Pixar’s films can be. Yes, even Cars (Cars 2… not so much).
Maybe that’s why Coco resonated with me so much. It’s not just the central theme of familial bonds and the relationship between parents and a child.
It also harks back to some of Pixar’s most magical moments (the soaring balloon house of Up, the space ballet of Wall-E) and delivers an emotional gut punch that rivals that of 2015’s Inside Out.
And above all else, it gave me renewed hope in Pixar once more.
Voice cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Alanna Ubach
Directors: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina (co-director)