If Disney-Pixar fans ever had any doubts about the studio’s ability to recover from its slump in recent years, they can rest assured that its new Mexican-centric animation COCO is every bit as thrilling as anyone could have hoped for. Although following a fairly formulaic trajectory of tugging at the heart strings whilst delivering a vital moral message, COCO offers a narrative which is so much more than the usual “triumph of good over evil” tropes we have come to expect from the outfit.
Setting the story amongst the weird and wonderful world of Mexico’s Day Of The Dead celebrations, directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina offer their audiences an inspired departure from Disney’s Anglocentric traditions with this wonderfully colourful love letter to Mexico and its people. With an aesthetic inspired by artist José Guadalupe Posada and his “Dia de los Muertos” artwork, Unkrich and Molina manage to successfully incorporate his iconography in their own work, whilst cleverly avoiding stereotypes and by shaking off any doubts or accusations of cultural appropriation.
Twelve year old Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of one day becoming a musician, but sadly for him all forms of music have been banned from his family for generations at the request of his great great grandmother Imelda (voiced by Alanna Ubach). Dreaming of becoming the new Ernesto De La Cruz, a famous singer and Lothario voiced by Benjamin Bratt, Miguel goes against the wishes of his Abuelita (Renee Victor) on the Day Of The Dead by borrwing Ernesto’s guitar from a shrine dedicated to the dead musician. Soon our hero finds himself in the land of the dead surround by his dearly departed family members, but before he is sent back to the world of the living, Miguel makes it his mission to find out the secret behind his family’s ban on music.
Also lending his voice to this wonderfully touching story is Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal who excels in his depiction of Héctor, a down on his luck musician who offers to help Miguel get back to the land of the living in return for a favour. Whilst legendary actor Edward James Olmos puts in a great voice cameo as a character named Chicharrón. Add to the mix a charming, if completely bonkers street dog named Danté, and you’ll have all the ingredients needed for one of the most charming, tearjerking and genuinely heartening animations of the last decade.
Despite its dark tone and subject matter, COCO is never short of laugh-out-loud moments from start to finish. With themes relating to honouring one’s family in life as in death, COCO will not only move its audiences to tears, but also manages to offer an important message of hope and perseverance, all the while presenting Mexico as a land rich in culture and tradition, something which carries a huge importance, especially in Trump’s America.
On the whole, COCO manages to achieve exactly what it set out to do and more. With a brilliantly catchy soundtrack and a genuinely likeable central character, the film is likely to please the faithful as well those who are only mildly interested in Pixar’s output.