Coco (2018) (Review)

2017 was probably the first year in which a Disney Pixar film has not only failed to make my top ten films of the year, but failed even to break the top three animated features. Cars 3, the third in Pixar's black sheep trilogy, was pretty poor by Pixar's standards and rendered that particularly sub-franchise barren. And with the animation giant failing to put out a strong original picture since 2015's Inside Out, audiences were beginning to think they had lost their touch.

It's a wonder and a relief then that Coco came along when it did. Inspired by the Mexican's Day of the Dead (Día De Muertos) holiday, the story follows Miguel, a boy who dreams of becoming a musician despite his family banning song after his great-great grandfather left his wife and children (Miguel's great-great grandmother and her daughter, Coco) to pursue a career in music. Don't let those misguided trailers fool you, Coco is an absolute treat and rejuvenates the studio after a disappointing run that started with The Good Dinosaur (although I personally dug Finding Dory an awful lot).

Coco so very quickly crafts a luscious and stunning world, defined by its colour and creation to pull you in to experience. It never strains to justify its Mexican setting or needlessly explain the holiday away; there's no hand-holding or spoon-feeding required, because the filmmakers create such a richly-woven tapestry of culture and celebration, of Coco and Miguel's world and traditions. Thankfully, it's full-on appreciation rather than questionable appropriation.

As with every Pixar release, Coco is simply stunning, a wonder to behold. So vibrantly animated and fantastically coloured, ingenious with its creations and complete with characteristically detailed flourishes. A spectacle in its own right, it dazzles and  compares highly to the studio's impressive filmography too, standing out thanks to its cultural diversity and uniqueness. Vibrant in both its colour and storytelling, director Lee Unkrich ensures most of the narrative beats stick the landing and they never come secondary to the aesthetics. It's a high-wire balancing act but Unkrich confidently controls each element with control and skill.

Coco soars thematically as well as visually, with Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich's screenplay exploring the multitude of important themes with Pixar's typical level of sophistication. Memory, family, culture, life and death and music are incorporated into the fold to extremely emotional effect, brilliantly rendered by an enduring story that is both deeply-personal and completely universal; everyone has suffered a loss and each will look and learn from Coco in their own unique way.

Furthermore, it is not only one of the few kid films to consider something as bold and devastating as Altzimers, but it is one of the only examples of mainstream filmmaking pondering such a condition in such a profound, insightful way. So delicately crafted, the ending is particularly emotional, striking a bittersweet balance both touching and memorable. It has heart and soul to spare, emotionally-robust in every sense and it uses Pixar's 'journey' formula to entertaining effect, in thanks to the stunning world we explore and the crop of interesting characters.

Keeping Coco light is the wonderful musical numbers and Michael Giacchino's score interlaced throughout. Remember Me - in its many, many forms - is regularly used to terrific effect, alternating from soaring anthem to heartfelt lullaby, each incorporation as solid as the last. Un Poco Loco ends the film on an uplifitng note, ensuring that the tears you leave on are a mix of happy and sad. The soundtrack uses cultural flair to enhance the world building, from the mariachi band and instruments selected, propelling you even further into this world without unnecessary hand-holding.

Fantastic voice performances can be found all-round from the predominantly American-Mexican cast, although it is Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel that steals the show. With a charming tone and loveable enthusiasm, Miguel journeys through the Land of the Dead with the audience by his side, inspired by his dedication and drive. He is a relatable soul: respectful and appreciative of his heritage while eager to find his own path and break away from the family tradition, another strong character in Pixar's roster. Gael Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt are strong too while Alanna Ubach is beautifully emotional as the deteriorating titular character.

A few minor quibbles prevent Coco from fully rising to top-level Pixar, although it's pretty damn near: the transition between act one and act two began to lose me and felt somewhat rushed. A few more minutes could really have provided some stability to the move. I also found myself second-guessing the story, and while 'predictable' is the wrong word to use here, you had a strong sense as to where this story was heading before it got there itself. Again, this is because of Pixar's inclination to adhere to a structure that obviously works well for them but a small part of me hoped that the whole story could be as inventive as a number of the set pieces. It also committed one of my least favourite filmmaking sins: the whole thing could have been averted with stronger communication between the characters. It didn't frustrate me as much here as other films have in the past because the overall journey is full of so much heart, but it slightly disappointed me nonetheless.

Coco is a richly-woven tapestry of culture and celebration, life and death, and family and love that proves Pixar never lost their magic so much as mislaid it for the Cars franchise. It obviously paid close attention to Inside Out, mixing sadness with joy and mastering the balance. It is sophisticated in conjuring a vividly-coloured vision and spectacle, for which director Lee Unkrich should acknowledged, and handling some tricky themes that Pixar excel in delivering each and every time. Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich's script deliver a script packed with emotion and world-building, richly enhanced by a soundtrack and score brimming with charm and infectiousness. It's wonderful to see Pixar operating so well with an original film and I wait with excitement for their next adventure in the summer. Remember Me, I certainly will Coco.


Summary: Disney Pixar's Coco is another fantastic addition to their roster, recapturing the magic of their glory days. Visually spectacular, thematically power and brimming with emotion and heart, you'll shed tears of both the sad and happy variety in this musical-fantasy animation.