An animated masterpiece? I should Coco!
I had no great expectations of this film. In fact, I honestly went to see it solely because – with the lazy multiplex habit of milking films like Jedi, Jumanji and (God help us) Pitch Perfect 3 – this was the only film at my local cinemas that I hadn’t seen. But wow… just wow!
For this is a masterpiece, and with the Oscar nominations released yesterday, it almost seems a crime that it wasn’t included in the Best Picture list (it must surely follow its Golden Globes win and snatch the Best Animated film category… although I admit that “Loving Vincent” clearly looks like it took a lot more work!).
Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) lives in the quaint Mexican village of Santa Cecilia with his extended shoe-making family, including his grandmother Abuelita (Renée Victor) and his wizened old great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía, via a brilliant piece of animation). Coco was a child from a broken home, with music being the cause of all the trouble, and this has led to a multi-generational ban that Abuelita polices with fierce passion. Unfortunately, Miguel “has the music in him”, idolising the – now deceased – singing sensation and matinee idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt, “Doctor Strange“). Desperate to perform in the Piazza talent contest, held during the evening of the “Day of the Dead” festival, Miguel takes destiny into his own hands…. which might prove fatal as he is dragged, alive and kicking, into the ‘land of the dead’.
The film is a thing of beauty. Some of the scenes: notably the candlelit graveyard, the “petal bridge” and the first sight of the land of the dead are done with such majesty and art that they take your breath away. Literally jaw dropping! (Try to make sure you see it on the big screen). So there are similarities here with “Blade Runner 2049” which also had images that could easily grace the walls of any art gallery in the world.
Where the film deviates from “Blade Runner” though is the original story by Lee Unkrich (who also directs), Adrian Molina (who co-directs), Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich. Whereas the sci-fi reboot was a bit flaccid, story-wise, Coco develops in a surprisingly non-linear way. The story you think you are on suddenly does unexpected switchbacks and gets very deep indeed.
Deep? But this is a kids film right? Well, no, not really. Sure it has a lot of fun skeleton action, in the style of the re-constituting Olaf from “Frozen”, and a cute but mangy dog with a ridiculously long tongue. But the themes exposed here are FAR from childish. They encompass family, ambition, work/life balance, death and remembrance in such a fashion that parents exposing the film to young kids (I would think, up to 7 or 8 years old) should be ready with sensitive answers to “Mummy/Daddy, why…” questions so as to avoid significant anxiety and nightmares. The relationship between Miguel and his grandmother Abuelita, switching from violent outbursts to sudden loving hugs, might – I think – also confuse and disturb young children. Its UK certificate is “PG”, not “U”, for good reason.
So be prepared to cry. If you are anything like me, there will be a point in this film where you are desperately trying to recall the faces and voices of all of those people in your life that you have lost over the years. And some of the final jolts in this film will leave you almost as drained (almost!) as the start of “Up”.
As befits the subject matter there is a great score, with a mariachi feel, by Michael Giacchino, including a nice rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” over the Disney castle production logo. And there are some great songs, including the pivotal “Remember Me” which is now Oscar nominated.
Watch out for some nice cameo voice performances as well: Cheech Marin (from Cheech and Chong) plays the ‘border control’ officer, and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger (Hamm in “Toy Story”) turns up again playing Juan Ortodoncia, a character whose dentist fondly remembers him (LOL)!
With John Lasseter recently dragged into the #metoo scandal, and taking 6 months off to ponder on his “missteps”, one hopes this will not knock Pixar off its track too much. For with this evidence the studio shouldn’t keep trying to milk existing “Incredibles” and “Toy Story” franchises, but come up with more original entertainments like this. Because, for me, this rises into my top-three favourite Pixar films of all time (along with Toy Story and Wall-E).
Fad Rating (adults): FFFFF.
Fad Rating (young children): FFF with parental guidance.