“Coco”, a vibrant and deceptively poignant exploration of the Mexican holiday the Day Of The Dead, sees Pixar once again doing what they do best: delivering a heartfelt story of family, heritage and passion in a visually stunning wrapping.
12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is determined to be a musician, like his great-great-grandfather. The only problem is his great-great-grandmother forbade music within the family when her husband abandoned her to seek his fortune as a great musician. Determined to follow his passion, Miguel steals a guitar from the tomb of his great, great grandfather, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous musician in Mexican history to enter the Day Of The Dead talent contest. But one strum of the guitar sends Miguel into the Land of the Dead and he must find his family and get their help if he ever hopes to cross back over.
There’s a richness to the animation and character design that helps “Coco” to feel fresh despite the seeming comfort zone of familial tropes and, despite its potentially morbid subject matter, a deft lightness of touch that keeps it from becoming macabre, despite the plethora of skeletons on show. Indeed, it’s unabashed embracing of the philosophies underpinning the Day of the Dead gently tweak the more circumspect and hesitant attitudes towards the subject of death we tend to have in this country.
Although it draws from the same rich folklore as 2014’s “The Book Of Life”, “Coco” contents itself with a smaller, more personal story than the Guillermo Del Toro-produced telenovela-esque fable of gods and mortal love triangles. Both have at their heart the importance of music but “Coco” explicitly links the music to memory and the power of music to keep love alive. One of the most impressive tricks “Coco” pulls off is that, throughout its undeniably delightful story, it never feels like its got a hold of your heartstrings the way that other Pixar films have done, such as the first ten minutes of “Up” or the moment when Arlo and Spot tell each other of their families in “The Good Dinosaur” – that is until its final few minutes when it hits you like an emotional piñata, and the tears coming flooding out.