I’ll just say it.
From around 2010 to 2016, Pixar had been what you’d politely dub: a tad uneven. For every Inside Out that fired the brain cells as well as warming the heart, there’s been either perky follow ups (Monsters University and Finding Dory) which have cleaved audience opinions in twain, or well meaning, yet decidedly bland also-rans like Cars 3 or a Good Dinosaur that have missed the very bullseye the animation company is famed for hitting so often. Pixar NOT turning in effortless classics sometimes feels like the world has spun off it’s axis, but thankfully, with a flood of colour, a strum of a mariachi guitar and buckets of warmth comes Coco to address this curious unbalance in the fabric of reality.
Due to his great grandfather abandoning his family to follow his dream of being a world famous singer many years ago, young Miguel’s family has renounced music at the behest of his fearsome, slipper wielding mother. However the family business of making shoes is not exactly the little Mexican boy’s idea of fun as he has a forbidden, but burgeoning gift for song. Self taught by watching video tapes of his idol, the late Ernesto De La Cruz, he has yet to actually play in front of a crowd, but the upcoming Day Of The Dead festival could be his big chance.
However a strange series of events leaves Miguel trapped in the realm of the dead and the only way home from the afterlife is via the blessing of his deceased family. Teaming up with scruffy, skeletal con artist Héctor, Miguel’s journey introduces him to all his deceased relatives and their rainbow coloured animal companions and a race against time begins for the aspiring musician to unlock the secrets of his family history before he gets stranded in the Land Of The Dead forever, of course this being Pixar, things wonderfully don’t go as planned.
Firstly, the visuals in this movie are stunning. Rich and lush, both the real world and, especially the land of the dead are incredibly realised, the latter with it’s day-glow animal protector creatures buzzing around is maybe a career best so far for the animation giant. Plus, taking into account the fleshless nature of most of the cast AND the fact the film makes the life you have after you die seem really, really cool, the film neatly avoids being too gruesome or suggesting that being dead is something kids would actually want to aspire to (Christ, what a publicity disaster THAT would be).
It’s smart too. A savvy story with twists and turns that isn’t afraid to leave the kiddies baffled with some jokes aimed squarely at the parents (a sublime recurring Frida Kahlo joke in a family movie? Bueno. And props for referencing legendary Mexican wrestler El Santo too!) Coco hugely benefits from diving so completely into Mexican folklore, making it seem completely fresh and new (despite more than a few similarities with 2014’s The Book Of Life). More well trodden tales could benefit with a facelift from a more worldwide eye.
But of course Pixar’s real talent lay in it’s warmth, being able to manipulate it’s computer generated polygons to get more emotion from a smile of recognition on an old woman’s face than a million intricately designed cityscapes. Expect many glorious tears.
The best Pixar in since Inside Out and a thankful return to form after a slight bump, let’s hope the studio can maintain it for a world beyond Incredibles 2….
A great animated movie? I should Coco, and so should you.