Director: Lee Unkrich
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
When do you truly die? At first sight, it may seem too existential a question for a film to explore, especially an animation film that’s targetted at children. But Pixar, as always, manages to pleasantly surprise. Over the years, it has picked on everyday-ish themes, and weaved film after film littered with life lessons, and raised an entire generation of stories about toys, fish, monsters and cars. The latest to join this list is Coco which is about… the dead. You read that right.
The film’s entire story is established in the opening in merely five minutes through animations on handkerchiefs. The story is narrated by Miguel, our boy hero who loves to play the guitar but can’t because his great-great-grandfather abandoned his family to pursue a musical career. The family has since banned music in its household and instead became shoemakers.
But Miguel loves and models himself after Ernesto de la Cruz and wants nothing but to become a musician. After he finds out that the famous musician and he share a heritage, he is firm in wanting to follow his dream, and when the family vs dream fight comes to a head, the matriarch Abuelita crushes Miguel’s guitar. He runs away from home on the Day of the Dead and gets magically transported to the realm of the dead from where he has to make his way back to home before sunrise. And while he attempts to do this, he learns an important life lesson. And well, so do you.
The plot may seem rather heavy but the beauty is in how Pixar manages to make it seem simple and visually appealing. There’s a beautiful richness about it all that has to be experienced in a theatre to be believed. The colours of the land of the dead, the fluorescent spirit guides, the adorable plump cheeks and beady eyes of the skeletons all make even the land of death seem like a friendly place to live in. The songs of the film, while not particularly spectacular, are important in the larger scheme of things and play a fitting role in the climax in which your handkerchiefs will come in handy.
When do you truly die? Pixar says the final death happens when you are truly forgotten. Even though the company has been struck in a sequel quagmire for five years now, with films like Inside Out and Coco, it has ensured that it’s constantly creating new memories for a new generation. I only wish that the film didn’t feel like an elegy of a glorious era gone by. But perhaps that’s because I was welling up by the end and in a hurry to head home to hug my family.