‘Coco’ Review: Music and the Mexican Afterlife. Pixar’s Latest Will Lift Your Spirits

Desperate to pursue his passion for music and escape his music-hating family, Miguel accidentally finds himself trapped in the Land of the Dead. He must find the spirit of his hero Ernesto de la Cruz and gain his help in returning to the land of the living.

Just as Disney brought Polynesian mythology to life in Moana, Coco is set in a beautifully crafted vision of the Mexican afterlife. Once someone dies they pass into the land of the dead (unfortunately, the Mexican dead must enter the afterlife by passing through a border control. I waited for this to become a political point, but it merely remained an unfortunate reference). They may remain in this brightly coloured limbo whilst someone in the living world remembers them. Once the last person to remember them dies, they pass onto whatever comes next.

Coco is about family, music and most impressively death. It’s always great to see animated children’s films tackling big subjects, and Coco has a very spiriting message about death. On the Day of the Dead, spirits may return to the land of the living if they are invited (they must pass through that problematic border control). The living cannot see the dead, nor it seems feel that they are there. But the spirits of their loved ones are around them so long as they remember them, and music is a beautiful way of keeping those memories alive. This might be one of the best messages to appear in a film since Inside Out taught kids that it’s ok to be sad.

But of course, it is a kid’s film and so there are charming characters, some cheesy humour and some pretty memorable songs. I was surprised to find that that the film isn’t actually a musical; all of the songs are diegetic and therefore not as frequent as I might have liked. Although perhaps less joyous than those of Moana, they nevertheless capture the spirit of the film.

Pixar’s animation has become so detailed and extraordinary that some of the sequences set in the non-magical Mexico were a little uncanny. An almost photorealistic bustling square is then invaded by cartoon characters with exaggerated features. It’s a little jarring. However both the lands of the living and of the dead are stunningly designed and realised.

As the adult equivalent of a child having keys dangled in front of his face, I’m rarely distracted by predictable plots. However several important plot beats and twists were very obvious in Coco and I found myself becoming a little impatient for the characters to catch up so the movie could move into some new territory.

Coco is a very entertaining journey through a unique afterlife with an intensely emotional climax and message. Some predictability aside, it’s a magical, musical adventure.

4 / 5

Paul Salt is the co-host of the podcast One Good Thing.

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