Film review: Coco – 2018 starts with a bang

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Pixar has been on something of a downward trend of late, and that’s something I never thought I’d say. As much as it hurts, films like Cars 3, Finding Dory and The Good Dinosaur just don’t cut the mustard when compared to some of the studio’s greats.

Movies like Up, Inside Out and Wall.E as well as The Incredibles, which we’re finally getting a sequel to this year, are up there with the best animations ever produced, never mind just from Pixar. Hoping to get back on the right track this year, Pixar has released Coco. But are we back up to scratch?

Despite his family’s generations-old ban on music, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colourful Land of the Dead. After meeting a charming trickster named Héctor (Gael García Bernal), the two new friends embark on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.

The first thing of note is just how stunning Coco is to look at. Director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) creates what could be Pixar’s finest looking film to date, it really is that staggering to watch. The colourful world of the Land of the Dead is astounding and it’s pleasing that he chooses to spend the majority of the film’s runtime here. Populated by vibrant animals and the living dead, it grabs attention from scene to scene and isn’t afraid to hold on.

The animation itself is spot on, but come on, this is Pixar we’re talking about, we expect nothing less. They really are getting very good at this photo-realistic scenery business and aside from the naturally carnival-esque Land of the Dead, it reeks of realism. The characters too are rendered in ridiculously detailed CGI with the work done on Coco herself being absolutely exquisite. Every well-deserved wrinkle and the remaining twinkle in her eyes – it’s all there.

Aside from all the spectacle though, at its heart, Coco is a film about family, and the importance of family no matter how annoying or frustrating they can be. This may sound a little straightforward in comparison to some of Pixar’s more mature themes, but it’s worth noting that the plot has more twists and turns in it than some of the best thrillers – it’s a brilliant story full of laughs and emotion.

The voice work done by the entire cast is absolutely sublime, but Anthony Gonzalez’s portrayal of Miguel is beautiful. His performance is perfectly integrated into the film as Miguel slowly unravels who he truly is – it’s a testament to the actors and actresses who lent their voices that it speaks to absolutely everyone in the audience.

Naturally, Pixar’s trademark wit and heart are here in spades. There are some genuinely funny moments that are beautifully juxtaposed with some more sombre scenes that make you realise just how important family is. Correctly awarded a PG certification by the BBFC means that smaller children may find some of the more adult themes a little hard to watch. In fact, there were a few children in floods of tears as I left the cinema.

Pacing wise, Coco is just about right for a family friendly film. At a shade under 110 minutes, it zips along smoothly, very rarely letting up pace. But Pixar films have never really been about moving from one set piece to another and what keeps Coco interesting is the constant shifts in tone, colour and story. In this respect, it’s up there with the very best the studio has to offer us.

It is unfortunate however that there is no Pixar Short attached to Coco. Films like Inside Out and Toy Story 3 had brilliant pre-movie films to get the kids interested in what they were about to see on screen. It’s not clear why Pixar chose to snub Coco like this, but that’s one of the only negative points in a film filled to the brim with memorable moments.

Overall, Pixar is well and truly back on track with Coco. They’ve managed to create a film that not only creates some new classic characters for the studio to bring back in a sequel, but they discuss life and death in a way that adults and children alike will enjoy. Couple this with a beautiful soundtrack with some gorgeous original songs, stunning animation and a heartfelt story and they’ve definitely recovered the animation crown. What a way to start 2018.

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Coco rating: 8/10