Pixar’s latest manages to entertain thoroughly without ever surprising us. Here are our thoughts on Disney’s family movie for the holiday season.
Before its release, we had heard a lot about Coco and its approach towards a different culture – in this case, Mexican culture. More sensitive a choice in Pixar’s home country of the US than anywhere else, it appears as though Pixar chose to play it relatively safe – with family values, loyalty and forgiveness as more important (and universal) themes than the Day of the Dead premise that is used to fuel the story.
In Coco, we follow the story of Miguel, a young Mexican boy whose family consists of generations of shoemakers who have outlawed music from their lives. This is a recurring theme and a result of a musician who hurt the family many years ago by walking out on them. He is Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco’s father, and Miguel is immensely attracted to his identity and history because of his own musical dreams and ambitions.
Before too long, Miguel starts believing that Coco’s father was none other than long-deceased Ernesto de la Cruz, Miguel’s personal hero. This realization prompts Miguel to set aside his doubts (and fear of his family) and go for a musical career, but when his grandmother trashes his guitar (because music has already destroyed so much of their family) he is temporarily lost. Inspired by Ernesto de la Cruz, he sets out to find De la Cruz’s guitar and use that for his performance, but something goes horribly wrong and Miguel finds himself in the land of the dead instead.
What follows is a tale about what’s important in life more than anything, with Miguel running into some of his deceased family members who try to help him return to the land of the living. Obviously, music also plays a big part in Coco, as does Ernesto de la Cruz – who Miguel gets to meet eventually.
Threading these elements together is the Day of the Dead, where souls whose picture is put up by the living get to return and watch their family for this one special day. Those whose picture is not up are stuck for the year, and souls who are completely forgotten are lost forever. This mechanic is used effectively by Pixar to propel the story forward, although the “twist” felt very obvious about half an hour before it was eventually revealed.
The quality of the animation is what we’ve come to expect from Pixar – top-notch and fitting with their now-familiar style, mostly resembling Up! in this case. I wasn’t as entertained by Coco as I was by previous Pixar movies, but did have a good time watching another quality film. What’s perhaps most impressive is how they’ve managed to tackle a topic as grave as death and turn it into a family-friendly tale. We’ve seen Miguel’s “underappreciated talent” story before in Ratatouille, but this is perhaps Pixar’s most human title in a while.