Bob Foster

For a film about death, COCO is vibrant and full of life. [REVIEW]

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Coco
Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Screenplay by Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina
Starring the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal
Production companies Disney/Pixar
Distributed by Disney
Release date November 22, 2017
Running time 105 minutes plus 21 minute Olaf’s Frozen Adventure short
Rated PG for thematic elements

Miguel wants to play music, he feels it in his blood.  Too bad that’s the one thing he is forbidden to do. Generations ago, his great-great-grandfather left his family for his own dreams to be a musician. Thus, his family banned anything related with music, choosing instead to cobble. Family. Music. These set the back bone for Miguel’s journey into the underworld on the Mexican holiday of Dia De Los Muertos.

What a wonderful journey it is.  As to be expected from PIXAR/Disney, it’s a journey of love, charm, and pure heart.  And beautiful to boot. The design of the Land of the Dead is vibrant, exciting, and full of color. The detail is overwhelming. From the colorful flourishes upon the skulls of the residents to the many locals Miquel and his guide Hector visit, the viewer will be swept away from the visual beauty just as much as the story and songs sweep them away emotionally.  

Bring tissues. Lots. Although there are some story hiccups in the second act, a little too much “go here and see this person, go here and get this item”, but in the third act when the story threads come together, those missteps are forgotten as the film hits hard in the heart.  Family is the strong theme here, as it is for the holiday itself. Family love and bonds continue past death; how we remember and talk of our ancestors. We only truly die when no one remembers us. The emotional core of the film builds on this concept. This is helped along by the music.

The film centers around music as much as it does family.  There are only a handful of songs rather than a full musical set, but each of them are beautiful and serve their story.  The central song, “Remember Me,” functions both as a well written song, but locks in the emotional themes above.  To its credit, it’s used multiple times in multiple ways, and by the third time, it’s heartbreaking. “Remember Me” will no doubt become a new entry in the top reaches of the Disney canon.

I’ve been deliberately vague when it comes to particular plotting and characters during this review. I came into the film with very little knowledge, and I want the same of you, dear reader.  Each of the characters are well drawn and expertly animated – one can be surprised by the amount of expressions a skull can have. Also surprising is the amount of mileage the film gets with jokes related to Frida Kahlo.

Like last year’s Moana, Disney presents a culture not well-depicted on film before.  There was Book of Life a few years ago, but I havn’t seen is, so I cannot speak on it. It’s wonderful to see this culture and traditions presenting with love, integrity, and without a stereotype to be found. It’s not my culture, and I would not pretend to know a great deal on it, but what’s presented feels well represented.  Unlike Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings, Disney/Pixar has chosen to fill the cast of the culture being depicted (note: Kubo’s great – the casting was the only downside). Along with may cultural advisors thanked in the credits, this goes a long way to present a beautiful culture often maligned by the President and his followers.

Coco is top-tier Pixar; beautiful visually and in emotion.  Strong performances and songs anchor a tale that will destroy most viewers emotionally – in the best way.  Take the time to see it, and then read up on another culture and traditions (I know I’m about to).

 

BONUS REVIEW: before the great Coco is a less than great Frozen short.  Disney, (bad joke warning), let it go. Frozen was good; not great.  Olaf is a fine side-character, but very annoying in larger doses.  Giving him a 20 minute short was a bad idea.  Disney is doing for Olaf and Frozen what Pixar did for Mater and Cars.  Why must the most annoying characters be shoved into the foreground? That said, the short is almost awful.  At 20 minutes, it’s too long. And it has at seven or eight songs. That’s more songs in 20 minutes than 105 for Coco.  There are a handful of decent jokes and bits, but ultimately an edit down to 10 minutes would have made a decent, if forgettable, short. So, if you’re running late for Coco, know you have an extra 20 minutes to get there before the good parts happen.

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