Coco Review

The Plot

During the day of the dead festivities a young boy with dreams of being a great musician finds himself accidentally crossing over from the land of the living to the world of the dead. While adapting to his strange and colourful new surroundings he finds himself torn between his own dreams and the stubborn objections of both his living and deceased family.

The Good

Coco has only just begun sweeping up best animation awards but already looks certain for forthcoming BAFTA and Oscar glory. These accolades are undeniably well deserved as Coco once again lives up to the astonishing reputation of Disney Pixar productions, effortlessly combining beautiful visuals with poignant emotional storytelling of the highest calibre.

Coco draws heavily on the wildly colourful and whimsical magic of the international renowned Day of the Dead celebrations. That constant explosion of colour and playful slapstick comedy helps allow the film to navigate potentially morbid and dauntingly sad themes in a way which is actually both uplifting and emotionally accessible. There’s something instantly comforting about the very particular view of the afterlife that Coco presents, suggesting that beyond this world is another one equally full of friends, family, music and love. The world of Coco is also beautifully realised through lush and detailed animation that gives Coco a distinctive visual style which is quintessentially Mexican and also universally appealing.

Coco also boasts a typically well-chosen Pixar voice cast with Gael Garcia Bernal doing particularly fine work as a seemingly hapless skeleton chancer who befriends the film’s young living hero and proves to be so much more than he initially appears. Likewise relative newcomer Anthony Gonzalez is convincingly plucky and petulant as young lead Miguel. In truth the entire voice cast breathe even more animated life into inventive character designs.

Music is another major theme in Coco, with the film’s entire narrative driven by the fierce tension between Miguel’s dreams of musical stardom and his family’s emphatically bitter rejection giving music any place in their lives. The music of Coco mirrors the overall tone of the film, succeeding in being obviously cheerful and fun, while gradually revealing more subtly bittersweet notes as the story progresses. In particular one of the film’s most beautifully memorable songs ‘Remember Me’ manages to evolve throughout the film, changing in tone and importance as new elements of meaning are revealed by the unfolding story.

Coco is a film which becomes more poignant and powerful as it progresses. In particular the final act of the film will almost certainly reduce grown up audiences to tears. Particular for those who have lost loved ones in their real lives, there is an emotional sincerity to later stages of the film which will almost certainly leave audiences with unashamedly tearstained cheeks. Any film which has the capacity to make audiences of almost any age laugh, cry and think in equal measure is deserving of praise and makes for truly essential viewing.

The Bad

During the film’s early stages while Coco sets up its central plot, our young hero’s extended family are at times so obnoxiously stubborn that they risk becoming irretrievably unlikeable. Though this is a necessary plot device used to set up an adventure which teaches everyone what ‘family’ truly means, it may still test audiences patience. Overall Coco is colourful and well-crafted but like many of Pixar’s films it deals with themes and emotional subtext that actually play more appropriately for audiences far older than the traditional target market for animated children’s films. Younger children’s attention may wander a little during portions of the film that deal with the poignant themes of mortality, love and loss. No matter how skilfully this content is handled it’s just simply not as appealing or accessible to small children as talking cars or singing snowmen.

The Ugly Truth

Coco is a breathtakingly heartfelt piece of animated magic that fills the screen with continuous colour and wonder. Pixar effortlessly rises to the challenge of tackling potentially difficult and sombre themes in a way that entertains young audiences and impacts grown-ups in equal measure. In particular Coco’s tear stained finale rivals the infamously poignant scene in Up as a contender for being the most beautiful and bittersweet moments Pixar has ever captured on screen. Coco is essential family viewing and a true masterpiece.

Review by Russell Nelson

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