There are moments throughout Coco, Pixar’s latest so-called return to form, in which the quality of animation is so extraordinarily well crafted that one would be forgiven for mistaking the format for stop-motion puppetry, not merely CGI. They’ve done it again. Somehow, Pixar have raised the bar.
Set in the midst of Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities, and baring more than a passing resemblance to Jorge R. Gutierrez’s similarly splendid The Book Of Life, Coco is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), an aspiring musician born to a family for whom all music is banned. As a terrifically stylised, bunting-based, opening reveals, it was when Miguel’s guitarist Great-Great-Grandfather left his family to pursue a career in music that his wife forbade all instrumentation in their home. Generations later, this is a law indomitably maintained by family matriarch Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) and her marvellously marching hips.
When a determined Miguel borrows the guitar of former town star Enrico de la Cruz from his mausoleum, he finds himself transported into the Land of the Dead and on an adventure in search of his absentee ancestor. All the while, his ageing Great-Grandmother Coco, fades away at home, slowly forgetting the father she has spent her life waiting to return.
If Coco, the character, is emotionally fading, this is in direct contrast to her status as an animation being in the world of the film. Indeed, of all the characters (many of whom are skeletal), it is she who exists in the highest definition. From the white hairs of her head to the wrinkles on her face and the knit of her clothing, the quality of the work here is simply dazzling. Not that there is anything simple about it. Such skill pervades all in the film, with careful attention paid to the design of everything from the local market (points for spotting old Pixar characters) right down to the Aztec Marigold petals used by the living to guide home the dead. Passing through an afterlife security desk, to arrive in the Land of the Living, these departed relatives must first cross a gorgeous bridge taken straight out of A Matter Of Life and Death. On the other side of the bridge, meanwhile, the Land of the Dead, based on Mexico’s colourful Guanajuato City, is quite literally jaw dropping.
If Coco shows off groundbreaking animation it is perhaps at the expense of a similarly groundbreaking plot. Though entertaining still, with an abundance of warmth, humour and emotional punching, familiarity haunts the film, resulting in largely predictable developments. Twists, which too often hinge on characters failing to communicate, are just that little bit too easy to see coming to truly fly. That said, Gonzalez is an instant charmer as Miguel, inspiring a well-trodden narrative arc that remains unfailingly investable. Indeed, an almost entirely latino cast (bar Pixar stalwart John Ratzenberger) are eminently likeable.
Coco may not soar to heights of narrative originality that can match its technical achievements but is nonetheless a top tier toon for all to treasure. You’ll remember this one.