Jacob Richardson | 28/11/2017
A heartwarming exploration of dias de los muertos, Coco spends an incredible amount of time in the land of the dead, but also feels like one of the most alive films on screens this year.
Following young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), an aspiring musician growing up in a family of music-hating shoemakers, Coco finds our hero stranded in the land of the dead on Dias de los Muertos after he attempts to steal the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) to win a talent show. To return to the land of the living, he must get the blessing of a dead family member before sunrise, but every family member he encounters refuses to send him back unless he promises to give up music. Miguel embarks on a journey to find Ernesto de la Cruz, his grandfather, and get his unconditional blessing so that he can return to his family. Luckily, he has his trusty sidekick, the street dog Dante, and a deceased ruffian Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who promises to help in return for Miguel taking his photo back with him so that he can see his daughter again.
Coco is full of charm, heart and laughs; exactly what we have come to expect from Disney Pixar. The story structure won’t surprise you, with the plot hitting all of the familiar beats. What will surprise you is the tremendously respectful and loving depiction of Hispanic culture, as well as the glorious creative vision in the imagining of this world.
The film exquisitely renders the living world, with some key moments utterly bewildering in their realism. Indeed, this is particularly remarkable because of the imaginative license taken with the visage of humanity. Watching Miguel speak to Coco in the key climactic moments, and witnessing her reaction, is astounding, because the wonder at how they made such visceral emotion in an animation is still there, but so is this clearly exaggerated imagery.
But the real world doesn’t hold a candle to the land of the dead, with it’s neon lit, physically impossible structure and melange of different building styles. Joined to this world by a wondrous orange bridge of flower petals, this world is so impossibly immersive it will have you begging for just a few minutes more in the cinema. The spirit guides of the dead are depicted as these beautiful, neon painted animals (or near-animal creatures), and they bring a vivacity and magic to the dead town. Even the skeletons themselves are rendered with intricate designs on their faces. It’s just an incredibly beautiful imagining of that world, and as Miguel makes his way through it, you’ll find yourself somewhat wishing he didn’t have to leave.
Coco is also full of toe-tapping music, particularly the main song Remember Me. Early doubts about another film exploring a musician outcast by his family are stripped away with the sheer love evident in some of Miguel’s performance scenes. The songs may not be as memorable as those in Frozen, but they are still welcome additions to a beautiful film that is both visually astounding and culturally respectful. You’ll likely come away wanting to know more about this culture, and about Dias de los Muertos.
Coco is a visual tour de force, telling familiar tales in an under-represented cultural setting that is depicted with respect, and which will peak your interest to find out more about these stories.