I'm proud we're family.
Pixar is the animation company that made it okay for grown-ups to enjoy films made ostensibly for children. I mean really enjoy them. It isn't just the craft that goes into their work. It's the sophistication and thematic depth of their storytelling (and the way they make you plain weep). These computer-generated features work beautifully on dual levels, often creating fully-realised new worlds. Finding Nemo. Wall-E. Inside-Out. And now... Coco. Their new title is up there with the best of them.
Set in a vibrant Mexican village, Coco centres on Miguel Rivera, a young lad whose dream is to play guitar like his movie-star hero Ernesto de la Cruz. The rest of his shoe-making family, however, are resolutely set against him doing anything even vaguely musical. The boy's great-grandmother Mama Coco was abandoned by her no-good musician father, and Miguel's secret guitar-strumming is viewed as an act of shame. The dispute comes to a climax on Mexico's Dia de los Muertos, its celebration of familial ancestors, when a rash action on Miguel's part crosses him over into the actual Land of the Dead. Here, surrounded by its cheerful skeletal occupants, he must try to find his way back to the living with the help of his own dead relatives.
Those are the (advanced apology) bare bones of the story, for this is a satisfyingly complex and ingenious tale, tying together themes of childhood ambition, family loyalty and the emotional links between living and departed into a deeply satisfying whole. And if any of the subject-matter sounds sombre, the absolute opposite is true. The film's primary emotion is joy - in music, in family and in life. It's also frequently very funny, right from the moment the Universal Studios theme is blasted out by a mariachi band.
To call the visuals stunning doesn't even capture the eye-popping colour on display here. The relatively restrained Mexican village scenes still buzz with life and movement in every frame. (The view of the candle-lit village cemetery is a gorgeous high-point.) But the Land of the Dead is almost overpowering, beginning with its entrance bridge - a great arch of cascading orange marigold blossom, over which the dazzled Miguel can walk. The entire after-world is a fluorescent marvel, constructed with near-ridiculous attention to detail, and bustling with an ironical degree of life.
Coco's numerous characters, living and dead, are realised superbly on every level, starting with its earnest Spanish-guitar-picking hero. (Take a look at Andy in 1995's original Toy Story and see how far Pixar has come in its depiction of humans over two decades.) Miguel's family is chaotic, infuriating and endearing all at once, his shoe-wielding Mama Elena a stand-out. And his colourfully-clad but rattling ancestors have as much individual personality as their living counterparts. Hector, the ramshackle scoundrel befriended by Miguel, is a series of bone-related gags, each as visually inventive as the last. Oh, and there's a dog called Dante (well of course there is), who can cross over to the other side, but keeps tripping himself with his own tongue.
The largely Hispanic voice cast is impressive too, with young Antonio Gonzales a terrific lead and Gael Garcia Bernal both touching and hilarious as Hector. They provide a whole lot of music, vibrant and celebratory, a perfect fit with the movie's magnificent sense of spectacle.
Ultimately Coco is just that - a celebration, particularly of Mexican culture, folklore and family life. What starts off as a well-worn tale of a misunderstood boy trying to follow his dream turns into something much more imaginative. It's a Day of the Dead miracle - and Pixar at its storytelling best.
Gut Reaction: Amused, entranced, entertained. And yes - the ending properly got me. It was the opening twenty minutes of Up all over again.
Where Are the Women? The matriarchs of the Rivera family are a force - none more so than Miguel's deceased great-great-grandmother Mama Imelda (the sublime-voiced Alanna Ubach).
Ed's Verdict: 8.5/10. It deals with art, passion, inter-generational conflict, life, love, loss, mortality, remembrance, even dementia - all of it with sensitivity, humour and warmth. And buckets of creativity. Just wonderful.