Review: Coco

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An absolutely stunning piece of animation. A bright, vibrant and heartfelt experience.

It is Dia De Los Muetros, the Mexican Day of the Dead, when families celebrate lost loved ones and honour their memory. Miguel is torn; his love of music is not shared by his family, who after his great-grandmother’s fury after her husband left her, led to a tradition of no music. But when Miguel finds a way into the Land of the Dead, to be able to speak to his dead ancestors, maybe he can realize his dream.

Disappointingly late for Cinema Cocoa seeing Pixar’s recent entry, Coco was released in January 2018 for the United Kingdom and even earlier, November 2017, for the United States. Luckily though the wait was worth it. Coco is a delightful little film.
I retract some of my earlier frustrations with the 2018 Academy Awards not awarding Loving Vincent for Best Animation in preference for the Pixar film… because this film is gorgeously animated. It is what’s always said about every Pixar film upon release, but seriously, this animation blows all recent big screen animation out of the water, even Disney Studio’s recent Moana, in terms of animation.
It is very clear that Pixar wanted to make something culturally sensitive; with a huge credit listing given to all the sources and researchers that helped bring the film to life. It is a colourful and visually rich movie, especially The Land of the Dead and the designs of the skeletal characters. Trust Pixar to make skeletons appealing/handsome/beautiful/emotive! But the world itself is so vibrant and multi-coloured, especially the Spirit Guide animal companions, who were extremely cool and should definitely have plush merchandise made of them. It isn’t scary, so don’t be too concerned about having kids watch it; this isn’t Tim Burton or Laika Studios levels of creepiness, it is firmly on the “wholesome Pixar” level.

So really, Coco is hugely deserving of its Academy Award for Best Animation, it was stunning.

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Storywise the film is one of the more straight Pixar films, most similar in tone and pacing as Ratatouille. It doesn’t go from zero-to-ten in drama-to-action such as Wall-E or UP, but it is also more of a character-based story than a set-piece comedy such as Toy Story or Monsters Inc. Miguel is introduced as a young boy dreaming to be a musician while his family wants him to continue the enforced tradition of shoe-making. That’s right, the “antagonists” are cobblers! The film smoothly transitions into the Land of the Dead, and quickly becomes a “race against time” as Miguel needs to find his great-great-grandfather… a late super-star musician, before the end of the holiday.
There are no ridiculous action sequences, no intentions of selling toys, the film relishes in having bright characters and designs.

But… the story is predictable. Without spoiling anything, the “twist” is so obvious from extremely early on, making a lot of the third act feel a little sluggish. There’s also some small cliches that force the story to continue, which are a little aggravating.
Amazingly, this film did not go for the hard emotional gut-punches it could have. Did you cry during UP and Inside Out? Don’t worry. Despite Coco being designed around family, memories and especially the passing on of family members… it wasn’t as heart-rending as it could have been. It is more of a heart-warming tale than a crushing one.
It is also a little strange that this film didn’t go into more musical numbers. Perhaps it is the juxtaposition with Disney Studios constant musicals, making Coco feel surprisingly coy with having any catching music numbers. Pixar doesn’t seem to go in for musicals (perhaps to differentiate itself from Disney) but this film begs to become one. Ultimately, some of this film becomes a little forgettable.

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However, it is a spectacular visual feast; the animation is gorgeous all the way through. When you think you’ve seen it all, it can still surprise you. The lighting especially, is stunning and rich, and the direction is extremely innovative in most scenes. This does make up for a lot of the film’s narrative shortcomings.

Coco is a beautiful film, and fans of animation should definitely check it out! It is hard to imagine the time when Pixar couldn’t animate human characters… Coco is a definitely step up in quality.

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