Dec 6, 2017

[Movies] Coco (2017) Review

It is interesting how Disney Pixar has become such a trusted name in animation. Perhaps that statement is still inaccurate - we trust Pixar as storytellers and year over year they consistently manage to find new ways to tell highly personal and engaging stories in a variety of ways across a variety of story genres and all that good stuff. Long story short: Pixar makes good movies.

Coco was a little hard to read at first, but the general trust in the Pixar brand was enough to get us to the movie theater. The risk was how this felt of too similar a tone to The Book of Life, another movie that focuses on the mythos and aesthetic of the Mexican Day of the Dead - Dia de los Muertos.

But as has been often the case with many Pixar movies, it was a totally different animated experience and one that had us really amazed at how a seemingly simple story could be told so elegantly and so beautifully. This is an amazing movie.

Synopsis: Coco is a 2017 animated movie directed by Lee Unkrich. The screenplay was written by Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich.

The Rivera Family is known for how well they make shoes. It's a family legacy that started with their matriarch Imelda Rivera (Alanna Ubach), who had been left by her musician husband one day, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her life by learning how to make shoes. But as an odd side-effect of all this, she had also banned all forms of music and musical instruments from the household and this has been carried on through the generations.

Now we meet Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), her 12-year old great-great grandson, who against all odds has not only developed a love for music but has taught himself how to play the guitar. This was all inspired by Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the famous musician who had originally come from their hometown. He hopes to join the town talent competition but in time finds himself in need of a guitar after his grandmother Elena (Renée Victor) destroys his in outrage over his breaking the family rule against music. This all leads him down an interesting journey that has him walking among the dead as a similar spirit, trying to get back home.

What I Liked: Coco is an amazing story about family and one that is told amazing well. And of course any story about family is bound to have its emotional moments and things build up in such a subtle and clever way that you won't fully expect how the swell of emotion hits you and just takes you away. I admit that I cried a few times and for many it was hard to hold back tears. And rare movie moments like that just tell you this is something truly inspired.

I loved how organic the story was as we focus on following Miguel throughout his exploits in the land of the dead. It would have been easy to keep going back and forth between his family and his own journey but Pixar knew that the core story was interesting enough not to need that sort of narrative noise. The story is simple in terms of events and can be predictable but how it all came together was surprisingly rich and powerful. And the animation quality is simply amazing and it's in the little details that it really shines.

And the fact that the movie is named Coco after Miguel's great-grandmother (Ana Ofelia Murguía) and not Miguel himself is perhaps the most special thing about this movie.

What Could Have Been Better: The jump to the land of the dead means that potential character development for Miguel's immediate family is non-existent so we never really get to know them even by the end. This may feel like a minor quibble, but it's sort of ironic that this story about family doesn't quite tell us much about his immediate (read: living) family.

There's a reveal later in the story that turns out to be surprisingly dark. It sort of made sense for the story and it certainly worked narratively. But for those bringing young children to this movie, I'm not fully certain how I'd try to process things for them and how to frame things. As much as it made sense for the story, a less dark alternative still could have worked without going to these lengths. But of course that would have resulted in a heck of a lot of changes to the ending, I expect.

TL;DR: Coco is ultimately a beautiful animated feature with few things going wrong for it. Parts may seem logically predictable but it doesn't mean the story doesn't have depth and intricacy with what it had to work with - therein lies its brilliance. Thus the movie gets a full 5 moments that'll make any grown man cry out of a possible 5.

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