Vibrant and vivacious, the City of the Dead looks like a roaring good time on Día de los Muertos. The party is in full swing when Coco’s earnest protagonist Miguel arrives in the underworld to learn some lessons about family, and the film sure makes the afterlife seem appealing. It’s just a shame that this isn’t as simple as walking across a bridge of marigold petals to get there, as Coco stumbles in its first-act setup.
The slow start is worth it though, as Molina and Aldrich’s script quickly zips off into unexpected territory when we get to the Land of the Dead. Coco’s twisty plot holds a few surprises for even the most jaded viewer, and like all the best Disney, it isn’t afraid to get a bit dark. Family is messy, and Coco delves into the murky waters of loyalty, resentment and grief – while staying kid-friendly, of course.
Vocally, an able cast bring new life to the undead, particularly in Coco’s catchy songs – and Natalia Cordova-Buckley is a riot as the late, great Frida Kahlo. Visually, the film is as detailed and mesmerising as we have come to expect from Pixar. The undead metropolis is a sight to behold – watch for the hidden skulls – but the highlight is the physicality of Miguel’s departed family members. Skeletons disassemble and reform like a Funnybones Lego set, in a stunning and frequently hilarious visual gimmick which helps the film stand apart from The Book of Life’s marionettes and storybook style.
Moving, amusing and downright grooving, Coco stands out in the Pixar pantheon as their first truly diverse feature. Let’s hope this is only the start of a new wave of animated Hollywood features looking beyond the white US-centric experience – and if they can all be as fun as this, then even better.
CAST: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach
DIRECTORS: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
WRITERS: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich (story and screenplay), Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz (story)
SYNOPSIS: Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colourful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.