Review – Coco

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Pixar, like Marvel, has gotten to the point where a new movie will come out and the question won’t be whether the movie is good or bad, but rather how good is the movie. A good Pixar movie is expected at this point. Even with a few missteps here and there like Cars 2 (which is on the low end of Pixar movies, but actually isn’t as bad as everyone acts like it is) or The Good Dinosaur (which really just suffered from being perhaps the only Pixar movie to feel like it never lived up to the initial idea) Pixar still means that you’re going to have somewhere between a good and a great time at the movie. Coco is on the “great” end of that scale, and quite possibly may be one of the Pixar movies competing for leading the pack.

Disney movies have always had a thing for musical, with many of them being full blown, Broadway style musicals, and most of the ones that aren’t still having a handful of songs or a focus on the musical score. Pixar on the other hand has always shied away from songs in their movies. That’s not to say that the scores of Pixar movies have been lacking because they are almost uniformly fantastic, but music and songs have never really been in the spotlight of the Pixar brand like they are for Disney. That takes a turn for Coco, a movie that is all about music, and musicians. Our main character, a young boy named Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) loves music, especially music performed by his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt) and longs to be a musician just like him. Unfortunately, Miguel lives with his family who all hate music. The family’s hatred for music of any kind comes from long ago when Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left his family to go seek fortune and fame as a musician. Since then, nobody in Miguel’s family has tolerated music of any kind, especially Miguel’s grandmother who yells out “NO MUSIC!” anytime even the potential of music is around.

Miguel’s secret love of music comes out on Dia de Muertos or Day of the Dead, a holiday for celebrating family members who have gone before us and helping to support them on their spiritual journey.  Unsurprisingly, Miguel’s musical passion is met with rejection and his grandmother smashing his guitar to keep music out of his hands. Miguel runs away and, through a series of events winds up in the Land of the Dead, a place where the Dead live after their time on earth is done. There Miguel meets his ancestors who try desperately to get him back to the land of the living, while Miguel hides from them, trying to meet his long passed idol Ernesto de la Cruz.

The movie is built simultaneously around two different things, a love of music and the importance of family. While the plot setup for Coco would make it easy to portray these two either at odds with one another or in a “surprise, they were the same thing all along manner,” Coco doesn’t take the easy way here. These two things are portrayed as different, yet both important and compatible with each other. Coco is able to take the two themes and interweave them in a way that each one is given the time and exploration that it deserves. The theme of family is brought up again and again, highlighting the different familial relations and the effect that one member of the family can have on all the others. At the same time, the movie’s love for music is prevalent throughout. This movie boasts the best soundtrack to a Pixar movie in recent memory, with several musical performances that both enhance the story, and move the plot forward while being fantastic songs in their own right at the same time.

Of course, at this point we have to talk about the Olaf short that comes before the movie. Like most Pixar movies, this one has a short animated feature that plays before the main attraction. This time around, instead of a Pixar produced short, the short is an Frozen short centered on Olaf (the talking snowman) learning about family traditions. Unfortunately as wonderful as Coco is, the biggest discussion point about the movie is how much everyone hates the short that comes before it.

The biggest complaint is about the length of the short. While Pixar shorts are usually just five minutes or so, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure comes in at 22 minutes. This is because the short was originally created to be a television holiday special, more in line with something like Shrek the Halls or those Prep and Landing specials that show up on TV in December. The decision to move it to a theatrically released short, meant that audiences who were expecting a quick five minute short started to wonder if they’d walked into the wrong theater after fifteen minutes or more. Taken on its own, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is fine. It’s nothing to write home about, but is ultimately an inoffensive Christmas special that works to keep the Frozen franchise in everyone’s mind until Frozen 2 comes out. What really did it in, was poor communication about exactly what Olaf’s Frozen Adventure was, leading to misguided expectations. Unfortunately, the Olaf debacle has overshadowed the quality of Coco.

With Pixar opening their doors to more and more sequels (Cars 3 was their other movie this year with Incredibles II and Toy Story 4 their next two movies) it’s a nice reminder that a Pixar original movie can easily be one of the best movies of the year and a movie that can justify the term “instant classic.”

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