By Daniele Foti-Cuzzola
For more than 20 years, Pixar have crafted stories that have taken viewers of all ages on unforgettable journeys, from the depths of the ocean, to outer space, to the Scottish highlands and Parisian kitchens.
But Director Lee Unkrich’s (Toy Story 3) latest offering Coco takes viewers on one of its most emotional and memorable journeys to date.
Coco delves deep into the vibrant traditions, customs and festivities associated with the Day of the Dead, the Mexican equivalent of All Souls Day, and perfectly incorporates music, comedy and sincerity to create a touching story that balances the bitter sweet emotions associated with such a day.
Twelve-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), has his heart set on pursuing a music career much to the dismay of his family, who would prefer he continue with the family shoe business.
His uptight grandmother, Abuelita Elena, has banned music in her family, as her mother, Mamma Coco, was abandoned by her father at a young age so he could pursue a music career.
But headstrong Miguel has his heart set on entering a music contest on the sacred Day of the Dead.
When his grandmother destroys his guitar, he sets out to find the guitar of the popular music and movie star, Ernesto De La Cruz, which he believes is his great grandfather. Upon entering De La Cruz’s mausoleum and stealing his guitar, Miguel finds himself transported to the land of the dead.
Miguel can only return to the land of the living if his ancestors grant him a blessing to return home. However, they agree to send him back on one condition – he can no longer play music. Unable to imagine a life without music, Miguel sets out to find his great-grandfather De La Cruz, with the hope that he can grant him his blessing without forbidding music.
With time running out, Miguel reluctantly teams up with Hector, a charming trickster and former acquaintance of De La Cruz, who agrees to help find great-grandfather De La Cruz, if he in turn can help him (Hector) return to the land of the living one last time. The two form an unlikely alliance and embark on an epic journey as they race against time.
Coco is a departure for Pixar, which until now has never ventured into stories centred on other cultural minorities. Unkrich and the team behind Coco have created a film that respectfully celebrates the traditions, customs and festivities of one of Mexico’s most cherished and sacred days.
Coco also marks Pixar’s first foray into animated musicals. While many of Pixar’s films boast classic tunes such as the Toy Story series and Monsters Inc., the studio has mostly avoided the musical genre until now.
Husband-and-wife duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the masterminds behind the tunes of Disney’s Frozen, wrote the film’s main theme and most memorable number, Remember Me.
The bitter-sweet ballad recurs throughout the film, and one rendition will definitely leave viewers a little misty eyed.
Germaine Franco and Michael and Adrian Molina helmed three other original songs, which ooze with traditional Mexican flair and will have viewers tapping their toes long after the credits roll.
In addition to the story and music, Coco boast some incredible visuals and is arguably Pixar’s most visually stunning film to date. Unkrich skilfully interweaves the vibrant colours, customs and traditional icons associated with the Day of the Dead festivities.
From the moving cemetery scenes, to the dazzling musical numbers, Coco is a sight to be seen and the real showstoppers are the colourful magical Spirit Animals which help guide the dead back to the land of the living.
Coco beautiful encompasses the importance of family, tradition and showing respect for our ancestors. The film is preceded by a 20 minute Frozen short, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which celebrates another traditional festive season – Christmas.
With dazzling visuals, a poignant story and lively musical numbers, Coco is arguably one of Pixar’s most ambitious and sincere projects to date.
While the studio had lost its touch with unnecessary sequels like this year’s Cars 3, Coco marks a return to form and the beginning of a revival of well-executed story telling that made Pixar a force to be reckoned with in the animation industry.
The skeletons and spirit animals will most likely frighten younger viewers, but the poignant story will touch those that are young at heart.
Coco is a celebration of life, tradition, the living and the dead, and poignantly captures that our departed loved ones will continue to guide us on our journey, wherever that will be.
Coco is in cinemas Boxing Day.