If you’re a parent, and I tell you that Coco is a Pixar movie, well, that’s pretty much it, isn’t it? You’ll take your kids, they’ll like it, and you’ll have spent a great two hours with them. Indeed, Coco is fast-moving, filled with bright colours, and contains a nice little message that parents will feel safe imparting upon their young. As an adult guardian, you can’t go wrong!
If you’re not a parent, you may ask, ‘But what kind of Pixar movie is it?’ Is it one of those thematically complex ones, like Wall-E or Inside Out, that’ll probably mean more to adults than children? Or is it like Finding Dory and Cars 2, which seem designed to babysit children while giving adults a chance at a solid snooze? Because if you’re not taking a small child… well, you don’t have to pay for peace and quiet.
Coco is somewhere in the middle. It follows 12-year-old Miguel Rivera, living with his family in a small village in Mexico. Miguel dreams of being a guitarist, to the chagrin of his family; long ago, his great-great grandfather abandoned his brood to pursue his dreams as a musician. This left his poor great-great grandmother to raise his great grandmother all alone. Consequently, any and all traces of music are expressly forbidden by the entire Rivera clan, as a not-so-subtle ‘screw you’ to this deadbeat.
Miguel has always felt an ineffable kinship to Ernesto de la Cruz, a world-famous musician and movie star born right in Miguel’s own village. Miguel plans to enter a talent show being held on the Day of the Dead, but—curses! His grandmother finds out and foils his plans by smashing his guitar! By a startlingly coincidental turn of events, he discovers an old family photo on the family’s ofrenda showing that his great-great grandfather was holding de la Cruz’s guitar. Could the famed star be Miguel’s great-great grandfather? I’ll bet you a bright, shiny new penny you can’t guess if Miguel will be a musician by the end of the movie!
This would probably be enough plot for your average Pixar movie, but eventually you feel the fat, heavy hands of a committee of Story Editors cramming more in. Miguel plots to break into his village’s shrine to de la Cruz, so he can steal the guitar inside. Strumming it leads him into the magical Land of the Dead, where he meets his ancestors and a few famous dead people, all looking like skeletons. He can’t get back to the living until he receives the blessing of one of the Dead, and if he doesn’t get the blessing by the time the sun rises, he’ll stay dead forever… etc, etc.
The plot moves at a fairly breakneck pace and here’s a lot more of it than your typical Pixar film. The second half of Coco, like the second half of Zootopia/Zootropolis, gets unnecessarily convoluted and dark. While there aren’t any snipers about like the Dreamworks flick, there are flashbacks to murder and other nefarious activities, so Parental Guidance is heavily advised.
As you can probably guess by now, Coco features Pixar’s first non-white main character. Though literally every character is Mexican, there’s a curiously instructional quality to the film’s most specifically ethnic elements. On several occasions, the characters bizarrely engage each other in expositional explanations of Mexican culture that, being Mexican, you’re pretty sure they’d already know. So even though the film is, in large part, about a certain culture, it doesn’t quite seem like it was made for that culture. This may not matter to you, or you may not even pick up on it, but it irked me to a very small degree because I found it… slightly condescending, perhaps.
Coco clearly lacks the magic of the best Pixar. But the worst thing you can say about it is that it has a generic core, gussied up in visually-striking, culturally-rich trimming. That it remains entertaining and, in its final moments, still genuinely moving, is a testament to how slickly Pixar can craft their products. Here’s hoping that their next effort feels less like a product and more like a film.