Thanksgiving is a secular holiday that is traditionally marked by turkey, yams, pumpkin pie, and talks of the horrific slaughter of the Native Americans by the Puritans because reasons (religion). For me, it’s always been an excellent time to go to a movie early in the morning with little to no one there with me. Imagine my surprise when I got to the theater and saw a completely full auditorium of a smattering of all kinds. Families, couples, singles, kids – young, pre-teens, and everything between that and maturity.
After the initial shock wore off, I ran to my seat and prepared for whatever Disney & Pixar had planned for me.
If you’ve noticed in the past few years, there has been a resurgence of Disney only films. Pretty much beginning with Princess and the Frog (2009) to Moana (2016) have been absolute classics. Just look at this pedigree: Tangled (2010), Wreck-It Ralph (2012), Frozen (2013), and Zootopia (2016). While Walt Disney Studios were rejuvenating the name and bringing in audiences far and wide, Pixar has been stumbling a little bit with sequels, Monsters University (2013), Finding Dory (2016) & Cars 3 (2017) a flat out stinker, The Good Dinosaur (2015), and one unique/quality film, Inside Out (2015). Of course those sequels were not disasters by any means, but nothing was as brilliance of Toy Story 2 (1999), Finding Nemo (2003), The Incredibles (2004), Wall-E (2008), or Up (2009).
While the pendulum swung the way of Disney Studios, Pixar was rallying for one of their most incredible films since their creation. That’s not hyperbole, Coco is absolutely incredible and not only just what Pixar needed, but something that the world needed. There is no other way I can say it. In fact, the owner and creator of this blog summed up the potential of this film last week “It (Coco) looks fun. We need fun these days.” Let’s dig a little deeper into why Coco is so much fun.
Benjamin Bratt, Gabriel Iglesias, Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, and John Ratzenberger. I mention those names because they are the only ones anyone could easily recognize from the IMDB Page for the film. This was a brilliant move on Pixar’s part: bring in a mostly unknown voice cast that fits the film’s demographic with intimate knowledge of the key traditions. It brought a lot of authenticity to the film and didn’t allow for any cringe worthy cultural “accents” to be used by famous white actors.
Each and every character in this film brings something to love, no one phones it in. While the writing is sharp, the voices talented, it’s nothing without Pixar’s incredible storytelling and signature visuals.
Pixar is known for creating extremely well crafted worlds and exceptionally unique characters and stories to fill them. In Coco, Pixar broke the mold. The setup is simple and while it presents a dilemma to the audience, it’s actually setting up something for that variety of an audience I spoke about. You see, our main character is Miguel, a young boy who has grown up with a family who does two things: makes shoes and hates music. What Coco presents is a differing views for each viewer – for the younger audience, they align with Miguel, especially with his love for music. For the parents and those a little more mature understand why music is forbidden in this particular family.
You see, long ago, the matriarch of this family, the great-great-grandmother to Miguel, was spurred by her husband, the wandering musician. She pressed the fact that music had torn her family apart and put it back together with shoes. Of course Miguel adores music and idolizes one of the greatest musicians to come from his town. And the only one he can discuss his love of music with is his great-grandmother, Coco. Her father was the one who left and turned the family upside down.
Soon a family fight breaks out with Miguel ending up with a smashed guitar and his hopes of preforming dashed along with it. Like any good child protagonist, he runs away as quickly as his little legs can carry him. This kicks off an excellent and beautiful journey to the Land of the Dead via the Día de los Muertos celebration.
Pixar essentially takes the celebration and all of its customs and brings them into absolute vibrant reality. Both in the real world:
And the Land Beyond:
What the story gives is a glimpse into the world where everything is true and the traditions that are carried on via Día de los Muertos carry more weight than you might know. One thing you learn is that the Holiday is a celebration of life rather than that of death. It’s a complex concept for many young audience members to comprehend, but the way the story weaves this lesson through the comedy, music, and familial relations does an excellent job of relating it to almost anyone.
And as Pixar’s staples, Coco is absolutely dripping with comedy and drama. From Miguel’s less than intelligent doggy companion and the genius of skeletons in the Land of the Dead dealing with similar crises many face today (border patrol, etc.), completely obscure references to Frida Kahlo and then to “The Final Death” – when no one in the Land of the Living remembers you any longer. It’s just simply a Pixar film, so be prepared to do a little bit of explaining if you bring children to the theater.
Once Pixar uses every color in the spectrum, their epic tale of family and music is brought together in one of the most emotional conclusions created by them to date. It is hard to articulate how they can bring all elements of beauty, music, family, and tradition to a head that doesn’t feel forced or even preachy.
This film also was very personal to me as in the past year I lost a family member who I cared a great deal for, and thus there were times I was crying due to the loss, but also tears of joy at how well the story unfolded. Be aware, there may easily be tears shed in the theater.
Pixar truly pulls off the impossible: I believe they have made one of the most perfect films, animated or otherwise. You do yourself a disservice to not see Coco in the theater where the eye-popping visuals are on complete display. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
My good friend Stinger the Baby Scorpion has a few final words for the movie going public. Heed his warnings or, you know, he’ll throw popcorn at you. Did you expect him to sting you? Clearly you all are not familiar with Stinger. He’s just a surly eight-legged movie critic that has some final thoughts on the film. I thought that I’d be the one with the final thought, but it seems Stinger had other things in mind. I’ll let him tell you:
- An odd move by Disney was to include a Frozen short before the film: Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. It’s cute and funny, plus it weighs the appetite until Frozen 2 can be released. However, I really can’t get behind a Pixar film without a beautifully animated short in front of it (a tradition dating back to Toy Story’s release in 1995). Look, I know this was marketing and ensuring every parent brought their children to Coco, but it just didn’t jive with me. Both stinger and claws at the ready for this decision.
- While the story fleshes out the reason, and it would be a spoiler to discuss here, the title of the film, Coco, catches people off guard when you realize the protagonist is named Miguel. I heard several children in the audience ask “Where is Coco?” multiple times, even when Miguel told them she was his Nana. So there needs to be a surprise visit from Stinger (likely in a shoe-box they haven’t opened in a long while) to whomever was lazy enough to name the film.
- Directed and written by second time full Director Lee Unkrich, whose credits include Co-Directing Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., and Finding Nemo, with his lone other film being Toy Story 3, he made an absolute slam dunk here. It’s especially refreshing in light of the many troubling allegations directed at the studio in the past few weeks.
- Dogs are great. Need to make kids laugh, put a dumb dog in the story and it’s instant comedy gold that can….