Coco succeeded where Up fell flat.
As a lifelong watcher of Pixar films, I've gotten to see how they've grown, decayed, and transformed. And Coco has proved that they're able to make up for past mistakes. While I'm not actively comparing two films, Coco does share many similarities to Up, namely an ambitious protagonist, a journey to a new world, and a surprise villain who serves as a Shadow Archetype of the hero. The biggest difference is the complete lack of monochrome storytelling in Coco and all the important characters being developed in somewhat equal measure. I could just be saying this because I went into the film knowing only that it was a Pixar film and nothing else, (and highly encourage others to do so) but Coco shows that you can remake a less-than-optimal film if you know what you did wrong and correct for it. Up was by no means a horrible film; it just didn't have the kind of complexity that Pixar is known for.
A Very Shaky Start, But Builds Up a Whole Lot of Steam
So, full disclosure. I'm not hispanic, I've never celebrated Dia de los Muertos even in the high school Spanish class that familiarized me with the holiday, and I'm not a musician in any capacity. But I do love folk music, friendly skeletons, and psychedelic colors, and this movie has lots of those. This isn't a perfect movie, and a lot of the reasons why involve the first act. After a pretty intro using paper cut-outs to tell the story of how a shoemaking family came to hate music, we get shoved into a very familiar story of a kid who wants to follow his artistic dreams, but whose family are stubbornly opposed to his fantasies of chasing stardom through music. There's a few good comedy beats in there to make it go down more smoothly, but I don't think the movie really starts to fire on all cylinders until his attempt at stealing from the dead on a bad night to do so lands him in Xibalba. From there, the story really starts to pick up, and even goes in a couple unexpected directions. My only major complaints about this section of the film are the conspicuous absence of the Catholic elements so central to the modern holiday, and the fact that a number of the dead family members, despite having designs that absolutely drip with personality, don't really get enough screentime. I recognize that morals about family being important and following one's dreams are dime-a-dozen in kids' and family pictures, but, without wanting to spoil, I think this film did manage to handle both in an atypically-mature, interesting way that I haven't really seen enough. And the colorful, skeleton-filled land of the dead is gorgeous and lively without ever fully succumbing to How To Tame Your Dragon-itis. The central protagonist kind of annoyed me at the start, but I grew to like him as the story went on, and the rest of the cast was wonderful. Special mention goes to the fast-talking huckster character you think you've seen in a million other animated pictures, who turns out to be a lot more sympathetic and interesting than he seems at first blush. It's not one of the top-tier of Pixar films, but it's definitely one of the best in the middle-tier. If you have the patience to wait through the first leg of the story, the rest of the film is worth it.