Coco strikes chord after chord in its animated romp
A Disney short starts off the latest Pixar animation-show, but the Nordic tale (and Frozen spinoff) “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” has plenty in common with the Mexico-set Coco. Both feature much singing, explore cultural traditions (winter holiday celebrations; the Day of the Dead), show off decorative-craft sequences (knitted-scarf images; a backstory told with pierced-paper silhouettes), and focus on family. But the sometimes earnest, generic snow story only reveals the underworld odyssey that follows to be far more urgent, distinctive, and phantasmagorical.
Young Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) first relates his family’s hatred of song-and-dance, dating back to when his great-great-grandmother’s husband left her and their daughter to pursue his musical dreams; since then, the family’s been in the shoemaking business, not even humming as they cobble away. But Miguel, a devotee of the late guitar player and film star Ernesto de la Cruz, has been secretly strumming his stuff … until his family finds out, on Día de Muertos. Miguel runs off, only to find himself trapped in the Land of the Dead, a world of luminous, spired neighbourhoods that also boasts a vast, glass-ceilinged train station and sky trams.
The coin-flip of obstinacy and determination in this rebellious 12-year-old is deftly spun, scene after scene. The Land’s skeleton inhabitants are joyfully macabre (one, so agog at a living boy before him, drops his eyeballs into his jaw with a rattle). Most remarkable are the light and colour: sun splashing through marigold petals; a poppily surrealist show staged by Frida Kahlo; spirit-guide animals with glow-paint markings. The film’s rich in detail: skull-like Catrina makeup; Miguel’s tongue-lolling Xoloitzcuintle dog (slyly named Dante); Mayan motifs on the Land’s stonework entrance; a surprise reunion in a cenote (a sinkhole or pit, usually in the Yucatán). The multi-layered story, zippily epic, slip-slides us deeper and deeper into this world beyond ours.
Coco’s final song is a bit much when the ending’s already so family-ever-after. But, long before then, its nimble play on emotional yearning and connection—with ancestors and elders through song and memory—has struck chord after chord.
Directed by Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina