Coco (2017)

  • Time: 109 min
  • Genre: Animation | Adventure | Comedy
  • Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
  • Cast: Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor

Storyline:

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector, and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.

2 comments

  • (RATING: ☆☆☆☆ out of 5 stars)

    GRADE: B

    THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: A visually stunning film with an unfortunately weak story that needs constant resuscitation (and a few rewrites) to breathe some life into it.

    SYNOPSIS: A young boy must come to terms with Death in order to celebrate Life.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 49 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: Bright colors dazzle. Characters morph into skeletal figures. Life becomes a struggle with Death. These very macabre settings celebrate the Day of the Dead in this off-kilter animated children’s film that is big on visual splash but a tad weak in storytelling and charm. Welcome to the world of Coco.

    As with most animated films these days, the story rarely matches the visual flair. And, in this case, the story and plot never quite makes logical sense: Miguel, the young hero in the story, wants to be a musician but is not allowed to utter a single note due to a family tradition of banning music from their household. It seems that his great great grandmother, the title character named Coco, had a mother who was deserted by her musician father who put fame and fortune ahead of family. Yet Miguel has the need to sing out, inspired by his late great idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. This leads him unexpectedly to visit the Land of the Dead. Convoluted? Wait…and he must get back to the Land of the Living by sunrise if he wants to return to his family ever again. Huh? Like I said, if I have problems following the story, younger children will be lost as well.

    There is also so much exposition in this film, too much in fact, in order to set-up the complicated plot structure. Some rewrites by the director Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich would have certainly helped to define the characters and their actions. Our small hero, Miguel, is cute and endearing, but not very appealing with his big doe eyes and Pillsbury dough boy generic face. He resembles a good-looking Cabbage Patch kid. Coco is essentially a minor major character, with about as much screen-time as Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, but she makes a lasting impression in a touching closing scene which is Pixar’s forte. Actually Hector, Miguel’s sidekick in this Dead Man’s Land, provides more interesting and the animators have some fun delivering some needed humor with his moveable skeletal parts. Voiceover work is fine with Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Benjamin Bratt as standouts.

    Mr. Molina and Lee Unkrich co-directed this movie and they keep the action moving along at a nice pace while sacrificing character development for action. The songs aren’t very memorable either, although the main ditty, Remember Me, is at least hummable. So what makes the film worth your time and money? It’s purely the spectacle of state-of-the-art animation that is a remarkable step forward in animation.

    Yes, it is the visual artistry on display which elevates this tale. Colors shimmer unlike most animated films. A note-worthy phosphorous glow throughout the film’s many sequences gives the film its distinctive visual quality. The intensity of light adds a unique richness to the backgrounds which upstages most of the underwritten characters and unfocused plot.  There are also lovely textures with the wooden carved faces of the skeleton figures, detailed animal spirits that glisten, and a transfixing luminescent ethereal world that adds to the mystique of the overall production.

    The color palette is stunning state-o-the-art animation. Vivid in its saturation point and rendered in amazing exactness. Coco is unadulterated eye candy. Oranges contrast against azure backgrounds…deep purples blend into shades of crimson. It’s a glorious mix of hues that would beguile any moviegoer.

    But originality and imagination come to an abrupt stop with the film’s dull screenplay. This is conventional storytelling, not worthy the artistry that surrounds it. (2014’s The Book of Life followed a similar subject, with weaker results, and although the images in Coco are truly remarkable, the plot is not.) There is a nifty twist midway that almost explains some of the illogical loose strands of the plot, but it comes a bit late.

    The doltish script never reaches the same level of excellence as the masterful images on screen. And let’s face it, the subject of death is a real downer, especially in a children’s film that has very few comedic moments to lighten its heavy subject. However, kudos to the film’s multicultural message, its all-inclusive Latin American actors doing voiceover work, and to Pixar Studios for tackling such an adult theme while staying true to the story’s Mexican heritage.

    Coco is a solid achievement, a good film that is dressed to the tens. But all of the visual trickery can’t hide its empty-headed plot.

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  • An animated masterpiece? I should Coco!
    Rating: 10*.

    I had no great expectations of this film. In fact, I honestly went to see it solely because – with the lazy multiplex habit of milking films like Jedi, Jumanji and (God help us) Pitch Perfect 3 – this was the only film at my local cinemas that I hadn’t seen. But wow… just wow!

    For this is a masterpiece, and with the Oscar nominations released yesterday, it almost seems a crime that it wasn’t included in the Best Picture list (it must surely follow its Golden Globes win and snatch the Best Animated film category… although I admit that “Loving Vincent” clearly looks like it took a lot more work!).

    Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) lives in the quaint Mexican village of Santa Cecilia with his extended shoe-making family, including his grandmother Abuelita (Renée Victor) and his wizened old great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía, via a brilliant piece of animation). Coco was a child from a broken home, with music being the cause of all the trouble, and this has led to a multi-generational ban that Abuelita polices with fierce passion. Unfortunately, Miguel “has the music in him”, idolising the – now deceased – singing sensation and matinee idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt, “Doctor Strange“). Desperate to perform in the Piazza talent contest, held during the evening of the “Day of the Dead” festival, Miguel takes destiny into his own hands…. which might prove fatal as he is dragged, alive and kicking, into the ‘land of the dead’.

    The film is a thing of beauty. Some of the scenes: notably the candlelit graveyard, the “petal bridge” and the first sight of the land of the dead are done with such majesty and art that they take your breath away. Literally jaw dropping! (Try to make sure you see it on the big screen). So there are similarities here with “Blade Runner 2049” which also had images that could easily grace the walls of any art gallery in the world.

    Where the film deviates from “Blade Runner” though is the original story by Lee Unkrich (who also directs), Adrian Molina (who co-directs), Jason Katz and Matthew Aldrich. Whereas the sci-fi reboot was a bit flaccid, story-wise, Coco develops in a surprisingly non-linear way. The story you think you are on suddenly does unexpected switchbacks and gets very deep indeed.

    Deep? But this is a kids film right? Well, no, not really. Sure it has a lot of fun skeleton action, in the style of the re-constituting Olaf from “Frozen”, and a cute but mangy dog with a ridiculously long tongue. But the themes exposed here are FAR from childish. They encompass family, ambition, work/life balance, death and remembrance in such a fashion that parents exposing the film to young kids (I would think, up to 7 or 8 years old) should be ready with sensitive answers to “Mummy/Daddy, why…” questions so as to avoid significant anxiety and nightmares. The relationship between Miguel and his grandmother Abuelita, switching from violent outbursts to sudden loving hugs, might – I think – also confuse and disturb young children. Its UK certificate is “PG”, not “U”, for good reason.

    So be prepared to cry. If you are anything like me, there will be a point in this film where you are desperately trying to recall the faces and voices of all of those people in your life that you have lost over the years. And some of the final jolts in this film will leave you almost as drained (almost!) as the start of “Up”.

    As befits the subject matter there is a great score, with a mariachi feel, by Michael Giacchino, including a nice rendition of “When You Wish Upon A Star” over the Disney castle production logo. And there are some great songs, including the pivotal “Remember Me” which is now Oscar nominated.

    Watch out for some nice cameo voice performances as well: Cheech Marin (from Cheech and Chong) plays the ‘border control’ officer, and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger (Hamm in “Toy Story”) turns up again playing Juan Ortodoncia, a character whose dentist fondly remembers him (LOL)!

    With John Lasseter recently dragged into the #metoo scandal, and taking 6 months off to ponder on his “missteps”, one hopes this will not knock Pixar off its track too much. For with this evidence the studio shouldn’t keep trying to milk existing “Incredibles” and “Toy Story” franchises, but come up with more original entertainments like this. Because, for me, this rises into my top-three favourite Pixar films of all time (along with Toy Story and Wall-E).

    (Please visit bob-the-movie-man.com for the full graphical version of the review. Thanks).

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