“Coco” is a simply delightful Pixar-produced Academy Awards nominee of 2018. Taking the Mexican folklore and tradition on board, it tells the story of Miguel, a boy living with his family of zapateros or shoemakers in Santa Cecilia, Mexico. Years before, the family imposed an absolute ban on music, because a father of some previous generation left his family to pursue a music career. However, in this present time, Miguel, unbeknown to his family, dreams of becoming a musician, practices music secretly and worships his music idol Ernesto de la Cruz. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel desires to enter a local music completion to fulfil his dream of becoming a musician, but, trying to do so finds him in the secret Land of the Dead, where his adventures only begin.
In “Coco”, the most fascinating aspects of the Mexican culture, engrossing story and breath-taking visuals all fuse to deliver an unforgettable cinematic experience. Firstly, this is the animation we have all been waiting for in terms of showcasing the delights of the Mexican culture. It does not even matter that the image we are presented with sometimes could be said to be filled with clichés and familiar stereotypes. There was a lot of cleverness and insight put into this animation to show the Mexican culture as something other than a man in a poncho with a guitar. The story as a whole revolves around Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), when people pray for and pay due to their ancestors, and generally remember those who have passed on to the other side. It is at this time, as some believe, dead ancestors have the capacity to cross the threshold and visit the living. Details of this fascinatingly morbid festive are everywhere in “Coco”: from the burning of copal incenses to the placing of calaveras (or representations of human skulls), sometimes in the form of sugary alfeñiques, at the centre of worship. Also, in the film, there are instances of typical colonial Baroque churches and alters, and Aztec-like buildings, for those observant enough to notice. Even Miguel’s stray dog called Dante is purely Mexican as it is of a Xoloitzcuintle breed.
Secondly, the animation touches upon a number of different themes, such as the importance of following one’s dream, but none more important here than the importance of one’s family, its history and tradition. Miguel is determined to pursue a musical career, but he also wants to respect, honour and please his family, and that dilemma is uncomfortable for him. In “Coco”, when there is no one left in the world who remembers a person passed away, that dead person disappears forever, and such rules in the film are like a call for us the living to stop and remember those who once were alive. The film is about cherishing the stories of others, be it the story of Miguel’s family or the tale about the rise to fame of Ernesto de la Cruz.
Story-wise, “Coco” also exceeds all expectations. Some critics unfairly referred to “Coco” as evidence that Pixar is running out of ideas story-wise, but if that is so, I do not mind that this process of running out of ideas lasts another one hundred years. It is true that there are similarities between “Coco” and “The Book of Life” (it is now an established plagiarism controversy), but there are instances of “Coco” in many other previous Disney/Pixar work. A theme of a family curse with a forbidden object attached can be linked to “Sleeping Beauty” (1959); the breaking of family traditions to forge one’s own destiny has sure parallels with “Mulan” (1998); and nostalgia for the past fused with mistaken perceptions seems to have been lifted off straight from “Toy Story 2” (1999). Incidentally, “Coco” also has some parallels with “Back to the Future” (1985), in a way a protagonist rewrites the history and makes drastic changes which affect the current perceptions of people when he goes back.
The story unfolding in “Coco” is not only engrossing; it is a roller-coaster of emotions and surprises. Once Miguel enters the Land of the Dead, he meets Hector, a certain trickster who makes a deal with him that he would find him Ernesto de La Cruz (Miguel needs a blessing from Ernesto to go back to the world of the living), and, in turn, Miguel would put Hector’s photo up somewhere in real life, so Hector could be remembered and not disappear. Fun is guaranteed when Hector misplaces his bones or when Dante gets too excited about something, but there are also witty one-liners throughout the film, such as when dead Ernesto says to living Miguel: “It has been an honour. I hope you will die real soon…You know what I mean.” Then, Miguel meets such memorable characters as Chicharrón and even Frida Kahlo, and neon-coloured beasts he encounters are just awe-inspiring. Also, at the customs place between the border of the living and dead, a lot of observational comedy happens, as so often the case in “Zootopia” (2016).
Half-way through the film the story slides dangerously close to being manipulative and predictable, and becomes a bit too complicated. Firstly, Miguel has to find Ernesto to get his blessing to return back to the living with the condition that he can practice music. Miguel does not want to be stuck in the Land of the Dead forever and his time is running out. But then, Miguel also needs to find a guitar to perform at a plaza in the Land of the Dead because the winner gets to perform for Ernesto and that it the only entry ticket to his mansion. There are just too many loose ends and different motivations, even discounting Hector’s story. However, just when you think that the story may hit a plateau in terms of excitement, something else happens – an amazing twist, and something dark enters the film, providing sufficient intrigue.
A great story with important messages, stunningly colourful visuals, adorable characters, and memorable songs all make “Coco” a very enjoyable watch. If you add to that a twist and a tear-jerking finale, “Coco” becomes simply unmissable. The story feels both very personal and very universal, and becomes it is so relatable, it sure is on the path to becoming a classic in time. 10/10