What has continued to separate Pixar Animation Studios from their competition is their ability to consistently deliver original, imaginative & emotionally arresting stories which, when blended with their groundbreaking, standard-setting & state-of-the-art animation, provide a highly rewarding, incredibly satisfying & profoundly intimate experience that strikes a chord with viewers of all ages. And over the years, this very patented fusion of unique concepts, quality storytelling & unparalleled animation has played an important role in catapulting them to the forefront of animation filmmaking and is one reason why Pixar is the most beloved & acclaimed film studio on the planet today.
Having enjoyed an unprecedented winning streak like no other during the first 15 years of its existence, from Toy Story in 1995 to Toy Story 3 in 2010, the ongoing decade hasn’t been their finest hour, for not only did the studio fell short in what turned out to be their first critical failure but also struggled to come up with original ideas, for majority of their films this decade are based on already existing works. Inside Out was a fresh breathe of life that showed that Pixar is still capable of dazzling us with stories that make our heart sing. And now, Coco reaffirms the faith in the studio, for it isn’t just their most culturally-defined work to date but is impressive enough to rank amongst their finest works.
Set in a small Mexican village, the story of Coco follows Miguel Rivera, a 12-year old boy who dreams of becoming a musician but has to keep his creative expression a secret, for a past trauma dating back generations is tied to the art form and it is strictly forbidden in the family. Things take an unexpected turn on the Day of the Dead when in an attempt to prove his worth by taking part in a talent show, Miguel steals a guitar that once belonged to a legendary singer, and is transported to the Land of the Dead where he reunites with his dead relatives. With limited time on his hands, for next sunrise would turn him into a permanent resident of the realm, Miguel attempts to find his singing idol in order to seek his blessing.
Directed by Lee Unkrich, Coco sets its premise within the first few minutes with a quick overview of the Rivera family history, including the events that led to total ban on music in the family, which since then has been passed down to future generations as the family turned to shoemaking. Unkrich’s tale is original & packed with fully dimensional characters, but what stands out most is its thoughtful execution. Brought to cinematic life with immaculate attention to detail, the film is a result of thorough background research that portrays Mexican culture & heritage in all its glory, and is as funny as it is touching. Unkrich handles the subject matter with care, treating it with the respect it deserves, and is able to articulate its themes of life, death, family & culture in an accessible fashion.
Every rendered image is refined to the smallest of details and the iconography is heavily inspired from Mexican streets & locales. The computer animation is flawless, as expected from the revered studio. Its vibrant set pieces & bright colour palette emanate a sense of heartfelt warmth & intimacy that not only enrich the viewing experience but also carries an immersive quality that brings the viewers further into its radiant world. Editing paces its 109 minutes narrative with firmness, for each moment paves way for the next with twists & turns placed at the right places as the picture heads towards its emotionally powerful finale. Michael Giacchino retains the Mexican flavour with a fitting soundtrack that also includes catchy musical numbers, ranging from the soul-stirring Remember Me to the gleeful Un Poco Loco.
Despite the skeletal appearance of most characters, every one of them is fully-fleshed in the script, and the writers have done a wonderful job in providing every relevant person an arc trajectory of their own. And what that really does is it makes us relate to them on a personal level, understand their choices, and invest in the journey they are undertaking. The film features an all-Latino voice cast, thus adding even more credibility to these scripted caricatures, and they all voice their roles with flair & finesse. While most characters are interesting on their own, their developing chemistry with each other is a core ingredient that makes the story work on so many levels. The gags are plenty and continue surfacing throughout its runtime, thus keeping its playful & amusing vibe alive even when the film is dealing with macabre elements.
On an overall scale, Coco is another impeccable fusion of first-rate storytelling with jaw-dropping animation from the acclaimed studio that scores high marks in all departments of filmmaking, and is an awe-inspiring, thoroughly riveting & endlessly entertaining ride from start to finish. Crafted with passion, precision & perseverance, it is an affectionately carved & soulfully narrated cinema that balances its light & dark elements with effortless panache, and is practically flawless in every aspect. An exquisite ode to remembrance & a heartwarming tribute to Mexican culture & folklore, this ingeniously directed, deftly written & beautifully textured masterpiece is another quality addition to Pixar’s oeuvre. Arguably the best film of the year, and definitely amongst the most accomplished works of its genre(s), Pixar’s latest is an endearing delight that comes one hundred percent recommended.