So, Pixar are at it again and this looked like a good way to start the year. Coco is something that I have been aware of for quite some time, but I didn’t actually go in to it thinking it would be anything that amazing. But the film looked like it had some promise, this is Pixar’s first new property, however, since the previously reviewed Inside Out with Cars 3 being their obligatory sequel, which, if I can remind you, wasn’t offensive, but I thought it was pretty boring. Coco also didn’t intrigue me with its trailer considering it looked like it was going to resemble The Book of Life, a film which also dealt with the subject of a Hispanic Holiday of The Day of the Dead. While the Holiday itself is a very interesting idea to make a film around, and several successful films have been made surrounding it, I wouldn’t count The Book of Life in that. Yes, I know a lot of people enjoyed that film, personally, I wasn’t one of them, I found the film to be painfully average at best.
The film has been directed by Toy Story 3’s director Lee Unkrich, which has also been co-directed alongside Adrian Molina, who also co-wrote the screen play. Though this is his first time being put in a director’s position, though he had done additional screen play material for The Good Dinosaur (which I previously reviewed) and Monster’s University, not necessarily something to give you much hope for, though he also wrote the screen play of Mathew Aldridge, who wrote the Samuel L Jackson and Ed Harris film Cleaner and let’s not forget that Jason Katz was also involved in development of this film and he in fact is one of the people who made Pixar what it is today. The film has been delayed in its release over here by several months, in fact it was a 2017 release in the States, why it took so long to come to Britain, I have no idea! I think that there was a worry that the film would not do so well with European audiences considering how much of the film is set in Latin America and Latin America tradition, something that is familiar to American audiences, but not as familiar to a European audience. But, I personally thought the Pixar logo would have overcome any suspicions of that one. Coco also comes off the back of receiving a BAFTA nomination for Best Animated feature, and, hopefully by the time this review comes out, it has received an Oscar nomination. In the BAFTA’s it’s going up against Loving Vincent and My Life as a Courgette, two excellent animated films, the latter of which I really should have talked about in my Top Ten Films of 2017. Those are the films I would be directly comparing it to, but how does Coco turn out?? I was going to say, ‘is Coco dead on arrival’, but frankly I would want to shoot myself if I said that.
Coco is the story of Miguel, (played by Anthony Gonzalez) and his family. Miguel longs to be a musician, like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, (played by Benjamin Bratt). His family, however, are staunch shoe makers, after the founder of their shoe making business, his great great grandmother Imelda walked out on her and her daughter Mama Coco, (played by Ana Ofelia Murguia). After a falling out with his family, Miguel wants to enter a talent show to prove what a good musician he could be. After believing that he has discovered that Ernesto may be his great great grandfather. He decides, therefore, to take Ernesto’s guitar, however, because this is on the day of the Dead Festival Celebrations, that counts as stealing from the dead and not giving back to the dead and so he is pulled in to the world of the dead for his crimes, where he meets his father including his great great grandmother Mama Imelda (played by Alanna Ubach). The only way he can get back is with his family’s blessing, however, he won’t accept the family’s blessing because they will only send him back if he promises never to play music again. Believing that Ernesto can give him his way back home, he teams up with a con man called Hector, played by Gael Garcia Bernal, with the deal being that if Hector can get him back home, he will hang his picture up so that he can go home and see his family during the Day of the Dead Festival.
That’s kind of half the plot of Coco really, in terms of a lot of what it brings, it’s not exactly ground breaking, it’s not even that long a film. It’s actually a 1hr 45mins, not the standard 2hr running time. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your feelings towards Frozen, because it was released after Christmas over here, it’s meant that the Frozen short that went with the US release has not made its way over to the UK, though I suspect that short will eventually become available. The fact of the matter is though, it was only after I had seen the film and looked up the running time that I realised it only run for 1hr 45mins, I did think it was a 2hr film.
Despite the fact that Coco is brimming with tones of clichés, it has a ton of substance to it as well. Yes, there’s always the misunderstanding between the family, the lifelong lesson, two characters making a plot to help each other out for their own ends, bad a bing, bad a boom. Despite what many reviews have said, this is not exactly what I would call a challenging film, it’s a very standard film. However, you might be expecting me to say that it is painfully average, hell no, the writing in Coco is just fantastic. Coco really adds a ton of heart in its writing and characters, which really sells the film, it also doesn’t linger on the clichés too long, it gets most of them out of the way pretty quickly, which does give the film a somewhat unpredictable nature. Also, I feel Miguel is a real kid, he doesn’t feel like he has been synthetically written by a committee that doesn’t remember what it is like to be a child and goes by either making the kid too perfect or too whiney. Something I have noticed that Pixar is getting good at between Miguel from this film and Riley from Inside Out. The film also has some decent twists, you can see a couple of them coming, but a couple caught me off guard and they also make sense in the story. Many people may be expecting a much more thematicall dissidence between the land of the living and the land of the dead, similar to that of the Tim Burton film Corpse Bride, where the land of the dead was very lively compared to the land of the living which felt very droll and dull. This is one of the clichés the film dispenses with, both worlds feel very lively and very colourful. The land of the dead is much more colourful though in a sense.
The film is also very well researched. Whereas Book of Life seemed to use the Day of the Dead Festival, where the belief is that ancestors return to visit their families from the land of the dead, was just kind of a back drop in Book of Life. Coco puts the festival front and centre and is thematically part of the story. The film shows a real understanding towards the festival and is treated with a lot of love and respect. I suspect there was a large amount of consultancy and research done with Hispanic communities to get the film right, similarly to how Moana had tons of research and consultancy towards the South Pacific island community with the making of that film. The biggest difference with the land of the dead is the skeletal design of the inhabitants, something that has been used very heavily in the marketing campaign for the film. I also think the film has been mis-sold about how light hearted it is, the film is never afraid to have quiet moment and real tension and stakes, something that I know a lot of family films are unfortunately trying to strive away from as a lot of film makers seem to believe that kids need constant movement and sound to entertain them. This film does not treat kids like idiots and as a result, gives a much better overall story and experience. That’s not to say that Coco is not a fun film, kids will love it and I believe their parents will be happy with it as well. I was really getting invested in this film. There are some light moments, some of the jokes are incredibly funny in this film, what’s more, the ending had me choked up. This was one helluva enjoyable film.
I loved the characters, especially the companionship between Hector and Migueal and of course the entire family unit. With the exception of Coco, who the film is named after, Miguel’s grandmother from the living world, the family unit kind of feel under-utilised and in the background. I remember seeing Doug Walker’s review of this film, which I say prior to writing this one, where he said the parents could have easily been killed off since they don’t contribute much to the story. I disagree with that point, but I see his point. For a film about the family, we only get to know a few members of the family and most of those are from the land of the dead. It also comes up with an interesting concept for what the dead have to fear. They obviously can’t die so how do you add tension and status to this film. Well, one of the tensions is that Miguel will die and become a complete part of the land of the dead if he doesn’t get back to the living world before sunrise. But, they also had the brilliant idea that the dead people will disappear completely into nothingness if they are forgotten by the worlds living, that is a great concept.
The writing in this film is really what has to be praised. This film has so many clichés that I normally don’t like and am getting sick of, but for some reason, I am not going to knock it down for it, it’s that well done.
The cast is also fantastic. The film could easily have had some A lister’s in several of these roles. However, it chose in order for the film to be authentic and not to get any accusation of white washing, has an entirely Hispanic cast. There are not all Hispanic A listers, there is a commentary that I can only think of two A list celebrities of Hispanic descent to be in the film, ie, ?? and Antonio Banderas. Benjamin Bratt is probably the most recognisable, who was in Law and Order briefly and you may recognise his voice if you are familiar with the Despicable Me films, in which he played Eduardo. Though he also had a small role in Dr Strange. Other than that, I think the stand out performance in this film is Gael Garcia Bernal who is a highly under-rated actor, many with Amazon Prime accounts may recognise him from playing Rodrigo in Mozart in the Jungle. He has had several successes in Spanish cinema, but I am hoping this role will lead him to more success over here that he rightly deserves. Anthony Gonzalez is also fantastic in his role. The other great stand out is Alanna Ubach, who you may recognise as the actress who played Isabelle in Meet the Fockers, though, she has done various voices in the Ben 10 series, but delivers a hell of a performance in this role. The entire cast deserves excellent praise for their excellent voice acting. But, this review has gone on long enough, so I unfortunately can’t name too many names.
As for the animation, I think this is probably one of Pixar’s best films to date. While it doesn’t have to do as much imaginative work as say Toy Story or Inside Out, it still does a good job with both the land of the living and the land of the dead. The colours and the designs in this are phenomenal. I saw the film in 2D and apart from a couple of sections, I didn’t see much that would have aided the film if you saw it in 3D, so don’t bother with that at this point. The character designs are good and fit in with Hispanic myth and legend very well.
Seriously, as soon as you have seen the film, get the soundtrack, it’s phenomenal.
Next week we move on to another film which I am certain has received a nomination for an Oscar and will have annoyed several of the outright Jackasses. It’s Meryl Street and Tom Hanks in The Post.
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and if you are reading this review having not seen Coco, what are you doing, get out there and see it, and don’t forget to buy the soundtrack on the way home.
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