Pixar has a rich history of tugging at the heartstrings with a powerful profundity, from the opening ten minutes of Up to the way Inside Out explored how important it is to save room for the sad feelings as well as the good, the animation studio has regularly displayed its keen emotional intelligence. With its seventeenth film, Coco, Pixar uses the power of music and its Mexican setting on Day of the Dead to tell an upbeat story about death and the importance of family.
When twelve-year-old Miguel (voiced by cheery newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) is transported to the Land of the Dead after disobeying his family’s wishes not to play music he learns all about where he really came from.
The gorgeous animation taps into Mexican cultural heritage and traditional folk art with brightly coloured alebrijes swooping around the vividly designed landscape. A sparkling orange bridge made up of the petals of marigolds acts as lovingly crafted tribute to the day of the dead and an appearance from Frida Kahlo (voiced wonderfully by Natalia Cordova-Buckley) adds great humour to the warm and exuberant atmosphere.
The Golden age of Mexican cinema is brilliantly played with too via the character of Ernesto de La Cruz, an idolized actor and musician. Gael García Bernal voices Miguel’s guide to the afterlife, Hector, with an endearing, energetic flair and his cheeky references to Kahlo’s magnificent eyebrows are giggle inducing. Catchy tunes such as ‘Un Poco Loco’ bring the laughs while the ballad, ‘Remember Me’, brings many of the feels especially in the film’s genuinely moving denouement.
The Land of the Dead also has a serious side, with the characters going through an airport security check to gain admittance and the bureaucracy subtly touching upon modern day immigration issues. The ‘department of family remains’ recalls the administrative office seen in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and it shares a similar approach to the subject of death by dealing with it in an imaginative and candid manner. The film doesn’t go where you initially expect it might go and is all the better for it.