Chloe Woods watches Pixar’s colourful new feature.
Full confession: it took genuine effort not to break into embarrassing sobs in the middle of the (fairly busy) cinema. That might be the sleep deprivation talking, or it might be because Pixar hasn’t produced a tear-jerker like this since the first few minutes of Up. And that is, obviously, a recommendation.
In lively small-town Mexico, the Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) approaches. For twelve-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), cursed with being a budding musician in a family of music-hating shoemakers, it provides the opportunity to live up to his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) by competing in the talent competition – until he sets off a real curse and finds himself in the Land of the Dead. Now, to exactly nobody’s surprise, he has until daybreak to get home or be trapped there forever, with only fast-talking chancer Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) to help him get to Ernesto, the one person Miguel believes can get him home on his own terms. (Yes, it’s an oddly specific request.) From there – the usual plot shenanigans and adventures are predictable, but nonetheless heartfelt twists ensue (basically, if you thought twice about the title when you learned who Coco was, you’re 95% of the way there) – and we reach the equally predictable, but well-earned, happy ending. Or as close as you can get to one when half the cast is dead.
Death here is not an ending – only the beginning of a new kind of life, full of joy and love for many, in the teetering, colourful Land of the Dead. If I knew more about Mexican culture perhaps I’d have spotted more, because the film brims over with its vibrant celebration – including conversations with Frida Kahlo (Natalia Cordova-Buckley), quite literally multicoloured alebrije acting as spirit guides, and an opening narration illustrated by the cut-out silhouettes of paper pennants while Miguel indignantly explains that his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach), after being abandoned by her no-good musician husband, could have gone into the business of fireworks or wrestlers’ underwear but, no, it had to be shoes. Miguel is delightful through the film both in voice and animation (and has a cute animal sidekick, therefore is clearly a princess), while the rest of the voice cast holds up perfectly well even if Imelda’s pet cat does act as something of a scene-stealer. Though all the characters are memorable except – perhaps intentionally – the villain, unnameable for reasons of spoilers but quite of the seen-it-before moustache-twirling mould; they are capable of hiding in plain sight and earning the trust of otherwise good, sensible people. This is – in case the whole “journey to the afterlife on the day of remembrance for dead loved ones” didn’t tip you off – one of Pixar’s more thematically complex films (which I’d love to talk about more, except: spoilers): if you opt to beg or borrow a small child to justify seeing it, pick one of school age1. It’s really not necessary, though. Nobody’s going to judge you for making a detour away from The Darkest Hour to see the superior film.
And the music. Ah, the music: not because it is spectacular, or because the singing is phenomenal as anyone can have technique. This is not a musical: it is a film about music, which is very different. Though never stated outright, the intent is clear – that music has most value not in performance or the quest for fame, but in the connections it helps create and preserve between human beings. If some of the leads are a little shaky on their vocal chords, it matters far less than the heart in the music and the fact they’re singing at all. And through the music, the memory of love2.
Coco is out now in UK cinemas. Watch the trailer:
1That’s not to say it isn’t a film for kids. It is very much a film for kids, death and betrayal included. There’s a quote I can’t quite remember, or name who said it – though it may have been CS Lewis, or somebody adjacent to him – to the effect of aspiring to tell stories that are worthy of children. Coco is one such.
2This, specifically, is why you’re going to cry.