Coco is beautifully animated, a festival of bright colours, dancing and music, writes Natalie Stendall.
Set in the land of the dead, it seems an odd choice for a children’s story. But it works. Pixar’s skeleton world is positive and friendly. Its music is full of life. Coco is a movie about family and it is full of heart.
Coco immerses us in Mexico. It opens with a gorgeous Mexican paper cutting montage that tells the story of Miguel’s great-great-grandfather.
He abandoned his family long ago to travel the world with his songs. In their grief, his wife and child banished all music from the house. Today Miguel shares his great-great-grandfather’s musical passion but it is suffocated by his family’s tradition.
Miguel rebels on the Day of the Dead and accidentally crosses over to the other side. Stranded in the Land of the Dead he must find his ancestors if he is ever to get home. It’s a dependable story, well made and absorbing (aside from a few predictable twists). But it is low on the grown-up humour that defines Pixar’s finest work, Toy Story for instance or Monster’s Inc.
Miguel’s struggle for identity within a family who don’t understand him is a familiar one. Disney’s Moana was built on the same foundations. Yet while Moana’s subtext is loaded with environmental and feminist messages, Coco has little beneath the surface.
It comes close to a comment on border control but this is quickly swallowed up by the story’s main thread. Once upon a time, Pixar stole the show from Disney, now they can’t seem to keep up.
That said, Coco’s story about the importance of family and our connection to them beyond death is reassuring and surprisingly complex. There’s plenty here for the adult audience to tug at, while for kids ‘death’ is cleverly displaced. In doing this, Coco encourages us to make memories and to cherish them.
It is often easy to feel manipulated by such calculated tearjerking. The final act deliberately pulls at our heart strings and the subject matter itself is blatantly sentimental.
But Pixar pull it off with characteristic warmth and soul. Coco isn’t as natural as Up, but after Cars and a string of Pixar sequels, it is a giant step in the right direction.