Madeleine Davies

Archive for October, 2018|Monthly archive page

The land that runs on memories: thoughts on Coco and grief

In Uncategorized on October 31, 2018 at 10:26 am

Coco

THE Land of the Dead was the “big design challenge” for the creators of Coco, according to the film’s lighting director, Danielle Feinberg. What should it look like?

“We all want to know the answer to that ultimate mystery: is there anything after death?” the director, Lee Unkrich, observes in an interview accompanying the film. “Is there a heaven? Is there a world to go to?”

What emerged from extensive research, including trips to Mexico, was a gorgeous vista of vertical cities, connected by vertiginous viaducts and lit up in a pretty palette – pink, orange and blue – evocative of enormous coral reefs. This soaring cityscape is built on pyramids that give way to pre-colonial architecture and topped by cranes signalling ongoing construction. It was in part inspired by designer Ernesto Nemesio’s visits to see his grandparents in Mexico, where he remembered close-knit buildings constructed almost on top of each other.

Although there are no living things in this world, what’s striking is how familiar it is. You arrive at magnificent iron-wrought station reminiscent of St Pancras or Grand Central, where customs staff are on hand to check your possessions (“Welcome back to the Land of the Dead. Please have all offerings ready for re-entry”). There are skyline trams, a plaza, concerts, and bureaucrats available to assist with family reunions.

“This isn’t a dream then?” asks Miguel Rivera, the 12-year-old at the centre of the film, who accidentally winds up here. “You’re all really out there? . . . I thought it might have been one of those made-up things that adults tell kids, like vitamins.”

When it was released in January, to huge critical acclaim, Coco was praised by the Telegraph’s Robbie Collin as a “zingy, sunny family adventure about what it means to be dead”. In doing so, he noted, it “crosses a frontier that most films, animated or otherwise, can only tip-toe up to at best”. Rated PG, it wasn’t too ghoulish or macabre for children, he reassured readers, but “healing and hopeful . . . in the way it makes sense of bereavement, Coco could conceivably become a means for children to better understand grief.”

I watched it this week and, while there were many things I loved about it, I’m not sure I’d entirely agree.

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