Pixar’s Up opens with a beautiful and heartbreaking montage of life, love, loss and regret for the time slipped by. Coco opens with an elegant montage all of its own, setting out the generations of small boy Miguel Rivera’s family, their proud traditions, their lasting superstitions and the effect that these have on the young aspiring musician’s dreams. But whereas Up goes on to tell the tale of one man learning to move forward in his life whilst honouring the memory of his past, Coco becomes about seizing the here and now, and about cherishing family, both alive and departed.
With its shared themes and broadly alike structural approach, in many ways, it acts as Up’s spiritual sequel, complete with literal spirits. A film steeped in Latino culture, Coco takes place during Mexico’s Day of the Dead, a remembrance for loved ones who have moved onto the afterlife. The streets heave with colourful celebration, every inch of the screen bursting with vibrant blues and oranges. Michael Giacchino’s wonderful score fills the festival of the dead with life, and calls Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) towards his dream of being a musician, just like his idol, the famous actor/singer/guitarist/handsome devil Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). It’s a passion that will not only land him in trouble with his family, who have banished music over their generations, but will also see him exiled to the Land of the Dead.
It’s here where Coco really finds its footing and the depth of detail put into the film becomes most apparent. The opening twenty minutes or so has a certain storytelling elegance, but that only extends and grows as the film progresses, with imagery both powerful and subtle never too far away. Be it the shifting in the weight of a bed as a soul moves on, the glowing flower petal bridges connecting the Land of the Living with the Land of the Dead, or in the sprawling metropolis that makes up the afterlife, it’s one of Pixar’s most visually arresting efforts to date. And it provides a magical backdrop for Miguel’s emotional journey (as well as his family’s). Emphasis on “emotional”. They grow together throughout, learning to embrace the past and to look to the future, but most importantly, to live in the now.
Heartfelt though it is, it wouldn’t be a Pixar film without humour aplenty. And laughs are found in the surreality of Miguel’s skeletal relatives, in his sausage-like dog Dante, whose oversized tongue seems in control of him as much as the rest of his body, and in Gael García Bernal’s Héctor Rivera, an undead trickster who wants nothing more than to find a way back to his living daughter. Comedy and emotion perfectly balanced in the way that only Pixar can. No surprises there, director Lee Unkrich did make Toy Stoy 3, after all.
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