‘Coco’ is interesting, but subject matter best appreciated by older audiences
Coco (Rated A)
Cast: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renee Victor
Dwight’s rating: NOT BAD
I’m not sure whether they still do it, but the report cards at my old primary/high school contained two grades per each subject — one for effort and one for achievement.
Of course, only the achievement grades would have counted toward a GPA, but this format did provide an interesting snapshot of how a student’s interest levels aligned with their capabilities. And as we know, sometimes your abilities and accomplishments are not a reflection of how hard you tried.
If Disney-Pixar’s new “Coco” were a student, it would clean up in the effort column. In terms of achievement, though, that report card would be a mixed bag. This is an ambitious film, replete with concepts that many live action films would shy away from.
But the result feels a little less special than it should, especially compared to some of the greats from Pixar’s stellar past.
“Coco” tells the story of a young Mexican boy Miguel, who dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, despite his family’s generations-old ban on music. Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead. After meeting a charming trickster named Héctor, the two new friends embark on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
There’s at least one area in which effort and achievement amount to greatness here; “Coco” is visually stunning, with complex, detailed and intricate images in almost every single frame. It is comparable to artwork and a testament as to how far animation has advanced in just the last few years.
However, challenges arise in determining the true audience for this film, and whether it is appealing to that audience. So many adults, sadly, already have a mental block about animated flicks. And children are naturally drawn to ‘cartoons’. But I am doubtful that many children will find “Coco” interesting, and its subject matter would be best appreciated by older audiences.
We’ve seen Pixar films move from being movies which, on the surface, are designed for children, but which adults can fully appreciate on a much deeper level, with the “Toy Story” series being the ultimate example.
But since modern-day classics like “WALL-E” and “Up”, many of their films have become more overtly geared toward grown-ups, with adult themes like consumerism, obesity and aging.
With “Coco”, the material is heavy; we’ve got family members on the verge of death and others trying to connect with already dead family members — a major component of the Mexican “Day of the Dead” celebration.
I suspect many children will be creeped out. For most of the film, we are seeing lots of animated skeletons running around, talking, singing and dancing. There are also a murder plot and “shocking” twists.
In the 1980s, a film like this would have been live action. And I suspect “Coco” would be far more special with real live humans.
These issues are relatively miniscule compared to the film’s virtues, however. It is tackling some very important themes, like following our dreams, respecting elders, not fearing death, celebrating the lives of our loved ones (whether they are with us or not) and appreciating other cultures.
Again, it is in line with Pixar’s foray into bold and thought-provoking fare. But one wonders whether a return to simpler tales wouldn’t do the company well. Perhaps we’ll get there with “Incredibles 2” and “Toy Story 4” over the next two years. Nevertheless, overall, “Coco” is not bad.
Of greater concern, however, is the heavy-handedness of Pixar’s parent company, Disney. As Pixar filmgoers would know, we are usually treated to a cute little short film — not more than five minutes — before the feature presentation.
But if you are going to see “Coco”, you might seriously want to consider getting there late. That would be the best way to avoid the ridiculously long and exceptionally boring waste-of-time “short” film spun off of Disney’s blockbuster, “Frozen”. To refer to “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” as a “short” is the greatest exaggeration ever in history.
It’s 21 whole minutes — 21 excruciating minutes, which might as well be 21 hours! If it were long and good, that would be, well, good! But it’s just plain awful. Like, everyone-involved-in-the-project-should-be-fired awful!
Just when you are praying and hoping it will end, the ‘cast’ breaks out into a cheesy, cringe-worthy song. And a full song! With multiple verses! It never seems to end. The whole thing left me exhausted, and I actually think it soured the entire “Coco” experience.
If “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” were to get a report card from my old school, it would certainly deserve its two giant Fs.
• Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of “Morning Blend” on Guardian Radio. He is a television producer and writer and an avid TV history and film buff. Email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.
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