Review: Coco

Coco poster

2017 wasn’t the best of years for the animation industry, with its films either being derided by critics or bombing at the box-office. That trend didn’t cease until year’s end, when Pixar Animated Studios once again acted as the industry’s saviour, this time with a film unlike any other they’ve produced previously – a Mexican-themed musical.

Twelve-year-old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) lives in a shoemaking family which has been practising its craft for several decades now. It is told that Miguel’s great-great-grandmother, Mama Imelda (Alanna Ulrich) started the business after her husband left the household to become a world-famous musician – he was neither seen nor heard from again. Subsequently, Imelda banned any and all music from being played in her family, a protocol that continues to this day.

This ban is most unfortunate for Miguel, who himself is an exceptionally gifted guitarist. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of his late idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and pursue a career as a musician, and is given the chance to do so during the upcoming Day of the Dead festivities. Miguel tells his family about his plans, only to have his cherished guitar destroyed by his overly-strict grandmother, Abuelita (Renee Victor).

Desperate to make his talent known, Miguel resorts to stealing a guitar from the local cemetery, one belonging to none-other than his hero, de la Cruz. This action sees Miguel turned into a spirit, allowing him to see his deceased relatives but leaving others unable to see him. In order to reverse this situation, Miguel must receive the blessing of a family member; but with his ancestors unhappy about his musical exploits, there’s every possibility that Miguel’s wish may not be granted.

The more informed reader may recognise that Coco bears a striking similarity to another Day of the Dead-themed film, The Book of Life – it too saw a gifted guitarist from a music-loathing family travel into the afterlife, but that’s where the semblances end. In Coco, the familial displeasure for music is justified rather than irrational, since it is music that forced the household to separate. It is also implied that the Riveras fear music, rather than outright hate it, which is an interesting touch.

As mentioned in the introduction, Coco is far different to anything Pixar has released previously, accomplishing a number of milestones in the process. Most prominently, it is the first musical to be produced by Pixar, and a pretty solid one at that. The songs have been written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez – the Academy Award-winning duo behind Frozen – while the remainder of the soundtrack has been composed by another Oscar recipient, Michael Giacchino.

With regard to the story, Coco is slightly less impressive, housing the overused trope of a child trying to win-over their family’s prejudices. To counteract this problem, the screenwriters have added a message about how powerful music can be, one to which both children and adults should take heed. Another issue to be had is with the twists and revelations, many of which will only come as a surprise to the youngest of viewers, but thankfully these moments aren’t banal enough to upset an adult’s enjoyment of the film.

As with any Pixar movie, the animation in Coco is nothing short of impeccable, being imaginative and of the highest quality. The moment Miguel steps into the Land of the Remembered, one cannot help but be stunned by the colour, creativity, humour and scale of the place – its paths and buildings appear to go on forever. If the imagery here is any indication, Pixar will be at the forefront of computer-generated animation for many years to come.

In a year that delivered less-than-stellar animated offerings, Coco proved a welcome and delightful exception to the norm. With its Mexican backdrop and wonderful soundtrack, the film is Pixar’s most unique foray yet, and one of the most enjoyable releases of 2017.

4 stars

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