The Afterlife as Emotional Utopia in Coco
This article situates the Pixar computer animation Coco (dir. Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, 2017) within a recent selection of afterlife fictions and questions why such narratives might appeal to our contemporary moment. The author’s response is structured around the idea of utopia. In Coco, he identifies several conceptions of utopic space and ideals. The afterlife fiction places characters and viewers in a reflexive location which affords them the opportunity to examine their lives as lived (rather than in death). Transplanting Richard Dyer’s work on classic Hollywood musicals as entertainment utopia to a contemporary animated musical, the article proposes that such a film can be seen as adhering to a kind of ‘new cinematic sincerity’. Coco’s particular depiction of The Day of the Dead fiesta and the Land of the Dead has its roots in the Mexican writer Octavio Paz’s poetic and romantic treatise The Labyrinth of Solitude (1950). A comparison between these two texts suggests that willing encounters with death can be connected to an openness to transitional states of being. Through close readings of key musical sequences in Coco, the author demonstrates how the properties of the musical are combined with animation aesthetics (baby schemata, virtual camera) to lead viewers into their own utopian space of heightened emotions and transition.