There’s a moment in Coco, Pixar’s newest offering, that is pure Pixar. It’s an achingly poignant, emotionally devastating, beautifully hopeful moment that had tears fogging the lenses of my glasses…and my four-year-old niece dancing enthusiastically in the seat next to me because the music was used to the greatest effect. This moment, no more than five emotional and effective minutes, is precisely why Coco is worth seeing.
Set in Mexico and told through the eyes of twelve-year-old Miguel (earnestly voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), Coco is an adventure that begins on the Day of the Dead and dips and swirls through a story that begins and ends with Miguel’s ancestors. There’s music (enough to keep the kids’ attention just when it might wane) and the requisite moments of self-discovery too but, really, Coco is a film about what happens after we die, the ancestors we remember, and what happens when they’re forgotten.
There was another moment in the film when I realised, with some surprise, exactly what this film was about and wondered if it was a little too heavy for any child. Had it been handled by anyone other than Pixar, I would agree but this is a Pixar film and it’s the studio at their best. Having released missteps like The Good Dinosaur and Cars 3 along with the wonderful Finding Dory, Pixar was due for an original film that showcased their talent for offering an exciting, moving, and an entirely child-friendly story about a complex subject with a side of nuance that children’s films can often lack.
Coco is this film because it takes death in all its enormity and filters it down to an understandable and beautiful level without turning it into something terrifying. This is partly due to Pixar’s magic touch and their ability to paint a subject like death with colour, humour, and poignancy. The other part is rooted deeply in the inspiration for Coco, the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead where the dead are celebrated, remembered, and, in the film, allowed to return to see their loved ones. It’s colourful and fun and the skeletons who come over the other side simply come from a city that is as familiar as it is nondescript.
The Land of the Dead is where Pixar’s animation and imagination truly shine. Though the land of the living, with its ramshackle houses and dust, is as beautifully animated as you would expect of a Pixar film, the Land of the Dead is Pixar at its finest. No detail is too small, no colour too bright, no Spirit Guides – animals, of varying shapes, sizes, and colours – too simple, the Land of the Living, the first time its seen is beautiful. The Land of the Dead is a rising swirl of colour and movement that is enthralling to stare at.
Leaving Coco with raw eyes, next to a four-year-old who was still dancing and listing her favourite parts of the film, is the highest praise I can offer Coco. It is well worth a trip to the cinema, but if you’re over 18, bring tissues.