If my generation were to be labelled by our most significant cinematic influence then I am confident we would be named the Pixar generation. We would have been the youngest members of Toy Story (1995) audiences and we’d have shed the most tears in Toy Story 3 (2010). A new Pixar film is always a big occasion for someone of my generation and at the outset Coco had the makings of a classic.
Pixar’s latest film is instantly remarkable as it is set in Mexico and features an all-Latino cast, the biggest-budget film ever to do so. Coco is set across one day, El Dia de los Muertos, where families gather to celebrate the spirits of dead relatives crossing from the afterlife to visit their living descendants. Young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) belongs to one such family, a clan of cobblers who forbid music in the house after Miguel’s Great-great Grandmother was abandoned by her musician husband. But Miguel has a talent with a guitar which brings him into conflict with his Abuelita (Renee Victor). After discovering that his Great-great Grandfather might have been a world famous musician, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), Miguel crosses to the Land of the Dead to seek answers from his ancestors and reconcile his family with music.
Coco really comes into its own when the action shifts to the Land of the Dead, where the skeletons of the dear departed live in a city similar to the ones they did while alive. We learn that the spirits may cross to the world of the living on El Dia de los Muertos only if their family remembers them – otherwise they will be forgotten and disappear. The design of the City of the Dead is beautiful and full of vibrant colour, especially the mythical alebrije which are spirit animals who serve as guides for the dead. The music we hear in the film is joyous with particular highlights being Miguel’s two hander with the soon-to-be-forgotten Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) at a talent show (‘Un Poco Loco’) and the Oscar nominated ‘Remember Me’, which is sung many times in the film with a guarantee of tears at least once.
The last Pixar film to make a lasting impression on me was 2015’s Inside Out, despite the fact I saw it with Spanish dubbing. The pure originality of this film means that I prefer it to Coco as there were points where I could guess the trajectory of the plot. However, this did not hamper my enjoyment of Coco which rattles along at riveting pace. The plot has a devastating ending which turns a small moment into a heart-breaking, tear-jerking climax, with music playing the most important role.
Coco deals deftly with themes of death, dementia and remembrance which is astonishing considering this is a children’s film. It is typical of Pixar to tackle such issues and still be able to deliver a film which would certainly challenge young children but would by no means be beyond them. And, despite some initial missteps from Disney, it is great to see Mexican culture treated with such respect and reverence by a Western film without at all feeling patronising. An inspiring film with a large and generous heart.