Good grief on Day of the Dead
Spectacular Mexican-set animation charms and entertains
19 January, 2018 — By Dan Carrier
The cast of Coco bone up on the Day of the Dead
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
THIS Mexican-set adventure looks, as one expects now from animation firm Pixar, absolutely spectacular.
It also underlines the fact that for visual contemporary arts, cinema is a leader. For sheer originality and application, no modern art comes close for inventiveness. This may be a comment on the fact other forms – sculpture, painting – appear to have become so abstract that the playing field is free for those working in computer-generated images. They have little competition.
But the simple fact is for a mass medium, the clever people at Pixar are consistently producing work that feels era-defining.
Coco uses the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration, as a theme and there is plenty of recognisable iconography for the animators to use. Death masks, wreaths and other Central America design motifs run throughout. The opening credits, for example, are a particularly clever skit, with prayer flags telling us the back story of a wild plot before we meet the hero of the tale, a boy called Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez).
They even drop some politics in with a passage about migration, and another about wealth and poverty.
Thanks to the music as another central theme, we are treated to a terrific soundtrack. Watching a cartoon child pick out tunes on a Spanish guitar is weirdly mesmerising.
Coco’s story is about righting a family wrong, and has the usual platitudes about being true to oneself and loving each other as a baseline holding it all together.
Miguel dreams of playing guitar and singing, but music has been banned in his house because his great-great-great-grandfather ran away from his wife to become the most famous crooner in Mexico, the great Ernesto De La Cruz.
Miguel wants to emulate the great man and after attempting to borrow De La Cruz’s guitar from a shrine on the Day of the Dead, Miguel is accidentally transported into the afterlife to meet his long-gone relatives – and it sets him off on a path to unravel a family mystery.
Coco does what Pixar does when at the top of its game. It deals with a fairly heavy subject – our mortality, grief, loss and love – in a beautiful way.
We’ve seen this before in films like Up and Toy Story 3 – and if there is a criticism to be made it is the fact this is perhaps a children’s film made for adults.
But treating youngsters with the respect that they can get their heads round such concepts is no bad thing. Above all, it charms, entertains, looks gorgeous and has a nice message. Just the thing time spent in a cinema should offer.