Coco (2017) Review

SEIZE YOUR MOMENT!


 

Pixar Animation Studios has been hailed as one of the premiere animated studios in all of Hollywood. Known for their popular big hits like Toy Story, The Incredibles, Monsters Inc, Up, and Inside Out, Pixar has gain the reputation for its high quality of cartoon feature films that have gone beyond the standard status quo of children’s animated movies. From its gorgeous and intricately detailed animation, to the colorful cast of characters, to its thematically and heartwarming signature of a story and / or messages, Pixar has proven that (time and time again) that their animated features, while aimed for kids, are wholesome entertainment for both the young and the young at heart. Unfortunately, while Pixar’s creativity has always been fascinated and well-founded with each and every film they release, the past decade has seen the studio return to its popular hits and used them as “brands” for follow-up sequels with films like Toy Story 3, Monsters University, Finding Dory, and most recently with Cars 3. While there’s nothing terrible wrong with this (finding many of these features to be well-received by critics and moviegoers), it somewhat dulls the sharp originality that made Pixar what stand out from its competition. Now, set to release its second 2017 film, Pixar Animation (in association With Walt Disney) and director Lee Unkrich (as well as co-director Adrian Molina) present the nineteenth feature film from the powerhouse studio with the movie Coco. Does this newest Pixar film find a home within its illustrious predecessors or does it falter in capturing the studio’s signature magic?

THE STORY


Twelve-year old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is descendant from a family of shoemakers, but has not desire to partake in the family business. Instead, Miguel desire of becoming a musician, following in the footsteps of his idol, the widely celebrated musical performer, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Unfortunately, Miguel’s dreams are quickly silenced by his family’s long-standing ban on music that has been passed down through the generations; a story that began when Miguel’s great, great grandfather (a musician) abandoned his family to follow his dreams, leaving his wife, Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) to raise Miguel’s great grandmother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), on her own.  As the Dia de los Muertos Festival arrives, Miguel’s family, with his grandmother Abuelita (Renee Victor) as the head of the Rivera family, soon discovers that he’s been secretly idolizing Ernesto and teaching himself how to play the guitar, forbidding the young boy from pursuing a career as a musician. In an attempt to prove himself to them (and to the world), Miguel steals the Ernesto’s famous guitar and accidentally transports himself to the Land of the Dead. Though Miguel meets his deceased ancestors, they too still don’t understand Miguel passion for music, and he sets out to search for Ernesto with the help of the charming con man Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who needs the boy’s help in order to visit the Land of the Living. However, Miguel, who comes face-to-face with the hard truth about his family’s grudge for music, must find a way home before sunrise, which makes the end of Dia de los Muertos, or else he’ll be trapped in the Land of the Dead forever.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


What can I say…. I love Pixar Movies. Yes, I do have a natural affinity towards animated movies, but the ones underneath the Pixar banner are some of my favorite. I mean, simply attaching a the “Pixar” name to an animated feature gives it that type of prestige quality that you know its going to a beautifully crafted and poignant cartoon movie. As the old saying goes “the proof is in the pudding” as the Pixar has garnished quite a reputation as being one of the premiere animation studios, each one carrying a certain signature pedigree that the studio is widely known for, with movies like Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, and Inside Out are some of my personal favorite Pixar films. Also, as stated above, I do enjoy some of their animated shorts, which usually are attached to their movies’ releases (usually showing before the feature). That being said, Pixar has circled back around several times to familiar territory, creating sequels to already established films rather than crafting new / original animated tales. This has caused many to question if that the prolithic animation studio has (as the saying goes) run out of ideas. Still, Pixar continues to be one of the most celebrated studios in children’s animated film entertainment.

This, of course, brings it all back to my review for Coco, Pixar’s newest movie release. After their 2016 release of The Good Dinosaur (a film that was on the weaker side), I thought that Pixar was starting to lose its edge, but, seeing Cars 3, their first of two releases in 2017, brought their interest back to heart and on point. This is especially noted as the Cars movie (as a whole) are typically cited as one of the more weaker films of Pixar’s catalogue; finding Cars 3 to end more on high note rather than a low one. So, Coco, their second movie release in 2017, was pretty much hyped up for most of the year, with various movie trailers being promoted throughout. Seeing them many times in my weekly movie theater outings got me really interested, especially in the film’s animation. However, I did have some reservations about Coco, which (on the surface) that looked like a bit similar to 2014’s The Book of Life; an animated tale that talked about Dia de los Muertos as well as a character venturing to the Land of the Dead and meeting his ancestors. Still, I was definitely curious (and hyped) to see Coco. So, what did I think of Pixar’s nineteenth animated feature? I loved it! While there are some minor hiccups along the way, Coco is a heartwarming story about family and a beautifully crafted “coming of age” tale that’s molded in Pixar’s traditions and in Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos. In short, Coco is not just a great animated for just Pixar, but for the 2017 as well.

Coco is directed by Lee Unkrich, who’s previously directed Pixar’s Toy Story 3 as well as co-directing other Pixar films such as Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo. Additionally, Unkrich gets additionally help with Adrian Molina, who has worked on several Pixar features like Monsters University (story artist) and The Good Dinosaur (screenplay writer). Together, both Unkrich and Molina helm Coco and navigate the feature tale of Miguel’s journey from start to finish. To their credit, both succeed in their endeavors with this movie being a crowning achievement to both Pixar veterans. Coco’s story, which was penned by Unkrich and Molina as well as Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich, is a mixture of the familiar and originality. As a whole, Miguel’s adventure is your typical hero’s journey / coming of age tale, hitting all the right beats of important life lessons about himself and about his situation. Additionally, the motivations behind Miguel’s choices / decisions (i.e. to follow his dreams and not feeling understood by his family) are universal to everyone (both in real life and in the cinematic world of storytelling), using that idea to spring board off of and to the start the feature as well as to anchor the narrative the film in its entirely for an emotional and satisfying arc resolution in the third act. While it may sound conventional to some, especially for being a kid’s animated film, there are plenty of new elements in Coco to make the film feel fresher than most. This includes the movie being rooted in a Mexican influence, which offers a new story perspective outline for Pixar Animated Studios to present in one of their feature films.

Interestingly, Unkrich and Molina don’t just make Coco have a Latin-flavored setting and nuances, but rather fully embrace its Mexican culture. This is most prevalent in the film’s usage of the Spanish language and the depictions of both Dia de los Muertos celebration (respecting your ancestors and the like) and in the Land of the Dead (rules of the afterlife and spirt animals). Also, the passion art of music (singing and instruments) are also highlighted in the feature, which plays a big part in the film’s story as well as in the Latin culture. Even the film’s message of self-identity vs the identity of one’s family is placed in full view of Miguel’s journey story arc in the film. This, of course, plays a paramount importance in Coco and speaks to Pixar’s signature style of presenting an animated tale with the right amount of emotion and depth behind it. In truth, Coco, like Inside Out, feels the most “human” of Pixar’s animated movies as the movie’s emotionally beats feel natural and genuine and never manufactured (a problem I had with The Good Dinosaur).  I wouldn’t be surprise if some viewers might shed a tear or two by the time the end credits begin to roll. So, even though I couldn’t get The Book of Life film out of my head while watching this movie, Coco makes itself stand out with one foot in familiarity and the other in its own originality.

On a technical filmmaking level, Coco shines brilliantly. The expansive world that the story plays out in is beautifully animated. The contrast of the quaint Mexican / Latin village motif in the Land of the Living to the more fantastical and vibrant setting in the Land of the Dead is something to behold and the cinematography, which was done by Matt Aspbury and Danielle Feinberg, is quite exceptionally for an animated movie, especially when Miguel first enters the Land of the Dead. Even the animation quality for the movie is top-notch as all the colors look brightly and are intricately detailed. Last year, Disney pushed the animation level with Moana, but Pixar pushes the boundaries of animation to a whole new level with Coco. Even character body movement from walking to slight hand gestures on a guitar are almost fluid enough to be mistaken to be for real-life. This just proves that Pixar is still one of the premier animated studios out there with its visual flair of CGI cartoon rendering. Lastly, since the art of music is important in Coco, the film’s musical score, which was composed by Michael Giacchino, plays as an instrumental piece to the feature and (like most of the movie) is rooted with Spanish style of music as well as the strong representations of flourish, sweeps, and melodies that usually accompany a Pixar film.

Unfortunately, Coco doesn’t walk away completely unscathed from criticism. Despite its positives and overall likeability, I did have one or two minor nitpicks with Pixar’s newest film. The first one is that the movie is a little deep at some points. Yes, I do know that Pixar movies usually have more depth and emotion than most other animated features out there, but there are some dark undertone elements here and there that may not be for the very young moviegoers out there. The next one is that the film’s big twist revelation, which is made pretty obvious, as I guessed it somewhere in the first act and (sure enough) my guesstimation was indeed correct. Thus, it kind of dilutes the overall “surprise” of it all when it actually does happen. In truth, it’s a little “on the nose” on how its presented as I guessed many out there will see it coming in and around the same time I did. Again, these are just merely minor nitpicks I had with Coco as these really didn’t distract much from my overall enjoyment of the feature.

The voice talent selection for Coco is also another positive for the film, especially found in the three main characters that are presented (Miguel, Hector, and Ernesto de la Cruz), who are voiced by Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Benjamin Bratt respectfully. Acting as the true main protagonist of the movie, Gonzalez, known for his roles in Imagination of Young and Icebox, is absolutely perfect as Miguel; imbuing the character with enough sincerity and heart to make him quite endearing to root for throughout his journey. Additionally, Gonzalez, who is mostly relatively unknown actor, displays a lot of range of emotions for Miguel (i.e. nervous, comical, sad, etc.) for such a young actor, which definitely adds to the character in both vocal terms and in character development. To simply put it, Gonzalez is one of the best parts of Coco…plain and simple. Also, Miguel’s faithful canine companion (Dante) is both hilarious and endearing throughout the movie.

Aiding Gonzalez’s Miguel for most of the feature is the character of Hector, a charming trickster in the Land of the Dead, who is voiced by actor Gael Garcia Bernal. Known for his roles in The Motorcycle Diaries, Mozart in the Jungle, and Letters to Juliet, Bernal is fantastic as Hector, giving the undead spirt a sort of rapscallion persona with a nice balance of charm and insecurity, but also some richer dramatic character moments that are presented as well.  Additionally, Bernal lends weight and distinction to Hector’s voice as if he’s seasoned veteran to voiceover work, which also makes Hector a very dynamic companion character for the film’s hero (Miguel) and for himself. Together, both Gonzalez and Bernal do exceptional work in their own respective characters in Coco, but also in their on-screen chemistry with each other, which might sound strange (especially since this is an animated movie), but Miguel and Hector are great with the film focuses on them. Round out the main principal cast is the character of Ernesto de la Cruz, the famous musician that Miguel idolizes and that he must find on his journey through the Land of the Dead, who is voiced by actor Benjamin Bratt. Known for his roles in Law & Order, Despicable Me 2, and Miss Congeniality, Bratt is the big-ticketed voice actor on this feature and does give a sense of seasoned gravitas in how he voices Ernesto, using his smooth-talking voice and charm to give the character the necessary star power bravado one would expect from a celebrity (in both the Land of the Living and in the Land of the Dead). Like the other two, Bratt is solid in his roles as Ernesto.

While those three characters are main principal figureheads of the feature, there are a few supporting characters that make up importance in Coco’s overall narrative. This includes Renée Victor (Weeds and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) as Miguel’s grandmother Abuelita Elena, Alanna Ubach (Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce and Meet the Fockers) as Miguel’s late great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda, and Ana Ofelia Murguía (Written on the Body of Night and Bandidas) as Miguel’s great grandmother Mamá Coco. These characters, though supporting ones, are presented as vital piece to the Miguel’s journey in Coco, and each one is developed enough for us (the viewers) to care about them. Other noteworthy voice talents, including Alfonso Arau (Romancing the Stone and ¡Three Amigos!) Papá Julio (Miguel’s late great-grandfather and Coco’s husband), Dyana Ortellí (American Me and La Bamba), as Tía Victoria (Miguel’s late aunt, Abuelita’s sister), Herbert Siguenza (Larry Crowne and Mission Hill) as Tío Felipe and Tío Oscar (Imelda’s late twin brothers), Jaime Camil (Jane the Virgin and The Prettiest Ugly Girl) as Papá Enrique (Miguel’s father), and Sofía Espinosa (Gloria and The Girl on the Stone) as Mamá Luisa (Miguel’s mother), provide solid voice acting bits and perform their parts in the film’s narrative, but could’ve been expanded on a bit more to fully flesh them out. This is one of the problems with Coco as there too many supporting characters for everyone to be well-rounded. Also, there are few cameo-like character appearances that are provided voice actors from Gabriel Iglesias (Magic Mike XXL and The Star), Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica and Blade Runner), Cheech Marin (Nash Bridges and Desperado), and John Ratzenberger (Cheers and all Pixar films releases).

Lastly, as per the standard custom of a Pixar’s film theatrical release, an animated short is attached before Coco’s proceedings. To much celebration, the short is actually a short from Disney’s 2013 Frozen, which is titled Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. The short, which was directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermers, tells the story of everyone’s favorite snowman (Olaf) as he tries to find the Christmas holiday traditions in the Kingdom of Arendelle for Princess Anna and Queen Elsa. Like the original 2013 film and the first Frozen animated short (Frozen Fever), the animation is wonderful with all the original voice talents (i.e. Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad) and several brand-new songs to be sung. Additionally, this animated short is actually quite long with a runtime of 21 minutes long, which I was very surprised, but I loved every second of it. All in all, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was a terrific animated short as it was fun to revisit the Kingdom Arendelle and all of its lively inhabitants that live there. I can’t wait to see Frozen 2!

FINAL THOUGHTS


Miguel journeys to the Land of the Dead; meeting his ancestors and discovering more about his family’s history (as well as himself) in the movie Coco. Director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina present the nineteenth animated film for Pixar Animated Studio, infusing their signature style into a heartwarming tale about family and music. While there are a few minor nitpicks about the movie, Coco is a fantastic addition to Pixar’s film library, offering up incredible colorful animation, solid voice talents, and a touching story that can resonate with everyone. Personally, I loved this movie. It had everything I expected a Pixar movie to had, but the film exceeded my expectations with plenty to like and then some. Thus, it goes without saying that I would give my highly recommended stamp of approval to Coco to be seeing by all as it offers something that’s both beautiful and entertaining at the same time (and that’s a good thing for an animated movie to achieve). While Incredibles 2. Pixar’s twentieth and upcoming 2018 release) brings the studio back to its franchise / brand roots, Coco stands tall and proud as a Pixar classic masterpiece, proving that the animation studio’s still reigns supreme in children’s cartoon feature films and that their original ideas are just as strong as ever. In short, Pixar (via its release of Coco) seizes its own moment!

4.5 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

Released On: November 22nd, 2017
Reviewed On: November 26th, 2017

Coco  is 109 minutes long and is rated PG for thematic elements

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