The nineteenth feature film to be produced by Pixar Animation Studios, Coco tells the story of Miguel, a Mexican boy who dreams of becoming a musician like his hero, the late guitarist Ernesto de la Cruz. The problem with this is that Miguel’s great-great-grandfather abandoned his family to pursue his own musical dreams, and as a result, a deep hatred of music in general has been instilled in Miguel’s family down through the generations. On the Day of the Dead, the Mexican holiday where the dead can visit the land of the living, Miguel breaks into de la Cruz’s mausoleum in order to use his guitar in a talent show – but when he strums it, he finds himself cursed and turned into a spirit. Escorted to the Land of the Dead by his deceased family members, Miguel has until sunrise to become a living person again by receiving his family’s blessing; so he sets out to get said blessing by a means that won’t involve him swearing to never play music again.
Easily the best thing about this movie is the style. The “real world” setting is as visually appealing as a dusty Mexican village can be, and the Land of the Dead is colourful and detailed, from its bridge to the real world strewn with flower petals, to its population of skeletons who are designed to be as kid-friendly as possible. The film also gets inventive with how the Day of the Dead works for the dead themselves, such as having them go through a scanner which only lets them through if a living person has put up their picture. The addition of having a dead person fade away if no memories of them survive in the living world is also a sobering touch. (One thing I did wonder: is this the only Land of the Dead? The population appears to be entirely Mexican. Where do you go if you come from a country where the Day of the Dead is not celebrated?) Unfortunately, the trouble with Coco is that the rest of the film is not nearly so original.
The overall story isn’t too bad: I was invested in so much that I was rooting for the protagonist to get what he wanted, and it did catch me off guard once or twice. But the majority of it is formulaic and filled with cliche tropes, especially the first act. The story of a rebellious protagonist striving to achieve their dream, against the opposition of their prejudiced family, isn’t exactly fresh – and in terms of character development, outside of what the “Land of the Dead” setting brings, Coco doesn’t do much that’s new with the old template. Even the scene where the angry, stubborn adult destroys the child’s prized possession in front of them, causing them to run away crying and do something naughty that sets the plot in motion, has already appeared in a previous Pixar movie.
What turned me off the most is that while the best stories of this kind give proper reasons for why the people in authority are so opposed to the protagonist’s wishes, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the idea of this family that hates all music with a burning passion – because of the actions of one man, who might well have done the same thing if motivated by a different hobby. It certainly made it difficult for me to accept Miguel ultimately learning the lesson that family comes first. I didn’t even like Miguel’s dog sidekick, who on the scale of Disney animal sidekicks, is only slightly less irritating and off-putting than the chicken in Moana.
I can understand why other people like Coco, and if you’re looking for a pleasant family outing to the cinema, give it a shot. I just didn’t consider it to be very strong as Pixar movies go. Rating: 3/5.