“Coco” is certainly a good (even very good) film, with the pitch-perfect emotional gut-walloping you can expect Pixar to deliver, but its narrative shape is so familiar and workmanlike that it feels tiring at times.
Certainly the film would be a marvel and huge triumph to children who haven’t been walloped enough by Pixar’s consistent output to feel that familiarity, and that’s what’s really most important, but it feels like a particular waste here in a way it doesn’t for Pixar’s other recent efforts, because the attempts to incorporate actual Mexican culture and aesthetic into the story, baking it in properly, not just as window-dressing, are fantastic and the film’s greatest strengths. The film could have afforded to have been weirder, but I suppose then it wouldn’t be so much a Pixar film.
Externalising ideas about death, family, belonging into an adventurous romp into a stunningly-realised visual landscape, all that works well, but the film soars its highest when it focuses on specific cultural aspects, not just how it can extrapolate a recognisable narrative structure out of a cultural celebration. It’s frustrating because the film touches on some really interesting concepts but backs away from them and retreats to its familiar structure again and again. The film is undeniably good, but it could have been something weirder and perhaps great.
It does nail the ending, which fosters a lot of goodwill and helps wash away the more workmanlike and narratively wonky earlier acts (although the third act itself does get a bit contrived with its narrative flipping around). It’s very much a Pixar film with all that entails. Three guitars and a skull.