Movie Review: ‘Coco’


Director: Lee Unkrich

Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia

Plot: Miguel is a 12 year old boy who aspires to emulate his hero, musician Ernesto de la Cruz. His family, however, consider music to be a curse. In the pursuit of his dream Miguel attempts to steal de la Cruz’s guitar and finds himself crossing over into the world of the dead.

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Review: There are few studios left in the industry who still carry such immensely high expectations as Pixar. Although they hit a few bumps with The Good Dinosaur and Cars 3 between their past efforts and Disney’s stellar 2016 we still expect something pretty special.

Coco, which doesn’t reach Australian shores until Boxing Day, is a dicey prospect. The Mexican Day of the Dead is central to the setting, but isn’t going to be familiar to international audiences, especially younger viewers. It also deals directly with mortality and includes subplots that explore being forgotten after your death and dementia being thrown in for good measure. Pixar have certainly leaned into emotional issues surrounding death and abandonment before but this is the first time they have attempted to give children a full blown existential crisis.

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Ok, it’s not that bad. The themes of the story are well handled and explored and, like Corpse Bride and Grim Fandango before it, Coco portrays the after-life as place of happiness while the living honours those who went before them. The first act of the film, which takes place in the world of the living, certainly isn’t a slouch in the visual department but it’s after Miguel crosses over into the afterlife that the film comes alive and I just now realised what I wrote. Everything is bright and colourful and, as usual, Pixar continues to push the boundaries of animation. Coco is a constantly moving landscape of imaginative fantasy realms packed with detail while flexible, disjointed skeletons break apart and reassemble in the blink of an eye. 

The design work is especially notable. The Day of the Dead celebration and iconography is extremely well utilised. Large, cartoonish skulls and flowers decorate the scenery and the unique shapes that make up each of the deceased gives everyone their own distinct personality.

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When we look at the entire Pixar filmography, however, Coco lands a bit lower down the ladder. The studio, whose mission statement always puts story first, has come up a bit short in this area. It’s not until late in movie that we really get to the heart of the matter and feel a connection to the main characters. The driving motivation of a character who just loves music but his family won’t let him be a musician is an oft-used trope and the reveals that it builds up to are very clichéd. Much of the movie relies on the audience recognising the importance of beauty and music, and yet it’s not until halfway through that we really start getting music numbers that make the most of the setting and style.

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Coco is weak in story but very strong in visuals. How much the younger set will enjoy it will be variable. The demented, hairless street dog is certainly a chuckle but the comedy and goofiness is to inconsistent to hold some attention spans.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN

 

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