By Aaron Rourke (Melbourne, Australia)
After producing way too many sequels and prequels in recent years (Cars 2 and 3, Monsters University, Finding Dory, Toy Story 3), Pixar bring us Coco, a charming, touching, and gorgeously animated feature that sees the revered studio thankfully return to form.
After a prologue which explains the history of the Riviera clan, we are introduced to Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), whose family live in the small Mexican town of Santa Cecilia. Miguel adores music, and wants to play the guitar and sing like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), an immensely popular singer/actor from the 1920’s and 30’s who died before his time, and has achieved iconic status right across the country.
Unfortunately Miguel has to keep his passion a secret, as his elders have banned music of any kind in their household, all because his great-great grandmother was abandoned by her husband, who considered his musical career more important than his own wife and child. The photo that adorns the family alter even has the disgraced husband’s head torn off.
Miguel’s eagerness to perform eventually gets him into trouble, and a series of events (which occur during the Day of the Dead festival) sees him transported to the Land of Dead, where all the residents are in skeletal form, and only a family member can send the youngster back to the land of the living. Teaming up with the likeable but seemingly untrustworthy Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), and assisted by loyal street dog Dante, Miguel tries to locate a specific relative who will return him to his loved ones, but if this task isn’t completed within a certain time, he will be stuck here forever.
Like Pixar’s other films, Coco is a feast for the eyes. Working off various folk tales and legends, they have crafted a world gleaming with colour and wonder, and there is never a moment where you aren’t checking every inch of the cinema screen. With a number of the studio’s founders being huge fans of Studio Ghibli, a noticeable influence blankets the film, and Coco could easily be seen as Pixar’s answer to Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning Spirited Away (2001). There are definite parallels between the two, both involving a young child who inadvertently enters the spirit realm, encounters a multitude of exotic creatures and personalities, and is guided by an outsider who tries to help return the main character back to their own world. While not on the same level as Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Coco is a memorable, loving tribute.
Other elements are also familiar; the dilemma that Miguel has to overcome is reminiscent of Back to the Future (1985), where he has to succeed in returning home in a limited time frame, or fear being trapped in a world that is alien to him (there is even a scene where Miguel looks at his hands as they slowly become transparent); the comical examination of clerical duties in the afterlife bears comparison to Tim Burton’s 1988 cult favourite Beetlejuice.
The voice work is outstanding, with everyone bringing life and emotion to their roles, whether they are living or not (the plot thread involving the title character is particularly moving). The music too is wonderfully worked into proceedings, adding genuine texture to both place and people. As stated before, the animation is superb, and offers up some of Pixar’s best work to date, so make sure you see this on the biggest screen possible.
Coco, while taking inspiration from other classic movies, is a refreshing return to sequel-free territory for the studio (especially Cars, with too many follow-ups to what is still the weakest original film in Pixar’s otherwise impressive body of work), with meticulously designed environments, and well-defined characters that will touch your heart as well as your funny bone. With so many animated films hitting screens nowadays, Coco is unequivocally a cut-above the crowd.
Rating: 4/5BEST QUOTES