VOD film review: Coco
Nathanael Smith | On 23, May 2018
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Watch Coco online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
The traditional route that a story like Coco would take is for Miguel, its plucky, family-defying main character, to be right. The story follows a young boy who is more interested in pursuing his dreams than in honouring his family. A chequered history with music means that his family doesn’t allow the playing of any instruments, but all Miguel wants to do is to make beautiful melodies on his guitar. This desire leads him to the land of the dead, in search of his musical great-great grandfather. In many films with a similar idea, the family would eventually realise the error of their ways and release Miguel to chase his dreams. Where Coco does something refreshingly different – and this is a thematic spoiler, rather than a plot spoiler – is to make Miguel the one in the wrong. Miguel’s pursuit of music only happens within the context of family.
Family, community and tradition are woven into the fabric of Coco. This is a film that celebrates dependence on one another and the unique love that exists in families. It may forgo any references whatsoever to the devout Catholicism of Mexico (why no Virgin Mary in the land of the dead?) and cop out of explaining what the “final death” is, but as a literalisation of the idea that people live on in our memories, it’s sweet and affecting. The best scenes involve Miguel talking to his great grandma, who is rendered in jarringly photoreal wrinkles, and observing the simple, kindly love shared between the two of them.
Somehow, even with these touching moments, the film still feels a little flat. Perhaps it’s the songs, which are merely OK. Only one – at the very end – comes with any emotional impact. The film’s big hitter, Remember Me, could be read as a failed plea to its listeners. The flatness could also be the result of its buddy-comedy structure, which relies a little too heavily on Pixar’s past hits. For all of its admirable themes and vivid settings, the narrative plays out exactly as you expect, putting up a barrier to the emotional resonance that characterises the best of Pixar’s films.
The immaculate animation and thorough world-building never fully land their intended impacts, either. Cutting-edge technology renders the land of the dead in glossy, bright colour, but that doesn’t automatically make it a particularly involving world to explore. There’s not much atmosphere in the afterlife. There are neat gags – the facial recognition technology is a smart touch – but when most of the jokes were done best in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice, it may be time to dig deeper and hash out another draft. Pixar, at their best, show us things we haven’t seen before in animations, which Coco almost achieves with its themes but still ends up feeling like we’ve seen it before. This is better than another franchise-building sequel, but Coco doesn’t quite take a place among Pixar’s greats.
Coco is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £11.99 NOW Cinema Membership subscription.