2018 – USA
Director(s): Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Starring: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Words: Josh Senior
Pixar movies are generally cinematic high points in any calendar year. Since Toy Story in 1995 the famed animation house has been churning out consistently high quality content on an almost annual basis. They are movies we crave, and movies we adore. They have sparked rivals and pretenders the world over, and yet, Pixar are still really the dominant force in this market; and they do so by remaining relevant, contemporary and also challenging all at once. It’s a difficult task, and one they balance expertly.
Now in their twenty-third year of cinematic dominance, their output can be separated into two distinct strands.
They have what we can call their franchise content, consisting of Toy Story 1-3, Cars 1-3, Finding Nemo/ Dory, Monsters Inc./ University and The Incredibles 1-2 (Incredibles 2 arrives later this year). These are really Pixar’s building blocks and offer them the chance to venture into more diverse territory in their other films, their second strand if you will.
These films, titles such as Inside Out, Brave, The Good Dinosaur, UP, Ratatouille and now Coco, often tackle larger themes and play out as thoughtful vignettes on life, existence and family values. Big themes for children’s movies, but it’s this that keeps audiences coming back for more. Pixar’s ability to handle elements beyond the realms of fantasy that speak to us directly, is their main strength.
Coco, is a quintessential example of Pixar operating on full emotional capacity.
The film follows Miguel during the famous Day of the Dead Festival, who is a music obsessed young boy who comes from a family that strictly forbid any musical activity. Miguel also happens to live in a town that is the birthplace of the world’s greatest Mariachi of all time Ernesto de la Cruz. When Miguel attempts to steal de la Cruz’s guitar, from the singer’s cemetery monument he is magically transported into the land of the dead, and attempts to seek out de la Cruz, thinking him to be his long lost ancestor. Along the way Miguel meets other members of his now deceased family as he finally learns the truth of his lineage and his heritage.
From the offset, this may not feel like ample material for a children’s film. Death and specifically life after death is the main focus here. However, Pixar inject so much beauty and hope into their concept that at no point do you feel any despair about what you are seeing, and for a child this simply plays out as yet another fantastical adventure. Miguel’s adventures take in these heavy themes, and for want of a better phrase, truly give them life. The film tells the story of how we descend from our ancestors, and how traditions are passed down from generation to generation, and how it is important to remember the past in order to forge ahead into the future.
Coco really sits up there with the strongest of these standalone Pixar films, which is high praise when you think of Inside Out and UP as the two standard-bearers. It’s also deeply satisfying, that during the current American presidency, such a film exists starring a Latin American cast and focusing on a festival that takes its roots in Mexico. Pixar’s politics and ideals could not be clearer here. No wall can stop any culture, and with Coco they continue as the trail blazers of animated storytelling.