Coco (2017)

Review #1,513

Director:  Lee Unkrich & Adrian Molina
Cast:  Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Plot:  Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family's ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to work out the mystery.

Genre:  Animation / Adventure / Comedy
Awards:  Won 2 Oscars - Best Animated Feature, Best Original Song 
Runtime:  109 mins
Rating:  PG for thematic elements
Distributor:  Walt Disney Studios

“What are you doing?”
“I'm walking like a skeleton.”
“No, skeletons don't walk like that.”

Coco is not just a great companion piece to a similarly-themed animation, The Book of Life (2014), which was a moderate critical success though it didn’t quite make a splash at the box-office, but also a family-friendly middle finger to Donald Trump and his anti-Mexican rhetoric.  A perfect tonic in today’s climate of hostility and prejudice, Pixar’s latest effort is a triumph of storytelling, which is comforting to long-time fans after a dip in form with the well-meaning The Good Dinosaur (2015) and the surplus-to-requirement Cars 3 (2017).  

Directed by Lee Unkrich, a veteran of the famed studio, who was behind Toy Story 3 (2010), and co-directed Toy Story 2 (1999), Monsters, Inc. (2001) and Finding Nemo (2003), Coco is one of Pixar’s most culturally vibrant works, centering on Mexico and their tradition of ‘Día de Muertos’ or ‘Day of the Dead’, where families gather to celebrate and remember their loved ones who have passed on, giving the dead spiritual comfort to continue their journey in the afterlife.

A film about memory, remembrance and familial love, as well as tradition and cultural roots, Coco also weaves in themes of ambition and dreams in the form of music, in this case one boy’s dream to become a great guitar player, despite his family’s insistence that music is taboo in their household—a plot point so economically developed in the first five minutes that it recalls the efficiency of Up’s devastatingly emotional opening montage about the love of a couple.  

Filled with genuine warmth and packing an emotional wallop at key moments, Coco is a must-see for families as we celebrate another year of growing older, and hopefully, wiser.  The flamboyant and colourful visuals will enthrall the younger ones, but its contemplative engagement with the aforesaid themes will satisfy adults as well—and at the end of the day, everyone will learn a thing or two about death and the ephemerality of our existence.  It is such an accessible film to kick-start conversations on our mortality.    

It speaks of Pixar’s inclusivity that a film like Coco exists, together with Brave (2012), the Scottish-inspired tale.  Some have accused Pixar of ‘copying’ The Book of Life (which was directed and produced by Mexicans Jorge R. Gutierrez and Guillermo Del Toro respectively for 20th Century Fox), but is there any other way to approach the subject of ‘Día de Muertos’ other than treading familiar ground?  Or to put it in another way: isn’t it also the best possible homage?

Verdict:  Packing an emotional wallop, this new Pixar movie is also one of their most culturally vibrant works.





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