Pixar is a movie-making machine. Founded in 1986, every one of its first 11 feature films picked up Oscar nods and seven went on to win. But in the last few years its standards have slipped. 2015’s The Good Dinosaur felt formulaic, Finding Dory wasn’t much better and as for last year’s turgid sequel Cars 3? Well, the less said about that the better. After two decades of unrivalled success, Pixar had hit a wall. But Coco, its latest effort, is a joyous quasi-musical that smashes that wall to bits.
Set in Santa Cecilia, Mexico, the film follows Miguel, an aspiring musician whose family’s ban on music drives him to run away on Dia de Muertos (The Day Of The Dead). Desperate to prove his talent, he steals the guitar of his musical idol Ernesto De La Cruz. But in doing so he triggers a curse which traps him in the Land Of The Dead. In order to escape, he must seek the help of his great, great grandfather or risk losing his family forever.
Funny and exciting in equal measure, Coco is a visually stunning tribute to Mexican culture. From the colourful animation to the life-affirming songs, it’ll make you want to up sticks immediately and emigrate to Tijuana. But it works on its own merits too: the storytelling is smart and there’s an important message about familial love, delivered in a charming and emotional way. If you’re not blubbing by the heart-wrenching finale then there’s something wrong with you. Generally, the music forms the beating heart of the movie. ‘Un Poco Loco’ is a thrilling Latino jam and folksy ballad ‘Remember Me’ will have you sobbing into your popcorn.
Coco isn’t a musical, but the soundtrack will top your Spotify Most Played list for weeks. There are problems — the plot feels somewhat perfunctory and there’s a sense of déjà vu about the characters. But for the most part, this is a glorious return to form for one of cinema’s most-treasured institutions.