I'm okay with calling this a PG movie. I know that G doesn't exist anymore and I usually fly off the handle about how "G" should still be a thing. But the movie is about dead people. I didn't think that the movie was necessarily scary at any point, but my kids who get scared at everything wanted me to hold them for some parts. The spirit animal was a little much, but nothing that most kids wouldn't be able to handle. Yeah, I agree. PG.
DIRECTORS: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
I rushed out to see this with my kids because I heard that Disney was pulling the "Olaf's Frozen Adventure" stuff after people were complaining about it. I liked it. My kids really liked it. Yesterday, my mom calls to tell me that they are going to put the Frozen stuff on ABC. Whoops. Ah well, my kids loved it and I was SuperDad for a little bit. But people also told me that this was the best movie ever. (I teach high school. They are prone to hyperbole. They also occasionally read my reviews, so we'll see how this plays out.) My big thought about Coco? The movie is really really good. I would even go as far as to say that Coco is great. But is it as amazing as people say? Probably not.
Coco succeeds in a couple really good areas. It presses some really impressive buttons and does that well. I've come to expect as much from a Pixar film. Pixar does everything that other animation studios are doing, but somehow does it better. The one thing that Pixar has always crushed, even with their movies I don't like (I'm looking at you, the Cars franchise!) is the visual element. Coco is an extremely gorgeous looking movie. A lot of this comes from the use of color. As a celebration of the Day of the Dead (which I'm not as knowledgeable about as I should be), the color scheme should be bright and vibrant. Pixar captures an idealized version of the color scheme associated for this holiday. Think about Christmas lights and Christmas trees in movies. The mundane is shaded with gray while Christmas-y things tend to have a magical glow. The colors are perfect. Honestly, Coco could be for Dios de los Muertos what every other Christmas movie is for Christmas. (That sentence, folks. *mimics delicious food gesture*) (There's no term for a visual gag.) But adding to the color is the scope that Pixar and the directors gave to the movie. The devil has always been in the details for Pixar movies. Look at the single universe theory that is in Pixar movies to show how much attention they paint to their environments. Coco, outside of the world of Wall-E, might be the largest impressive environment that feels real somehow. The City of the Dead seems like a real world. It might be odd that there is a class struggle in the afterlife, which is kind of a bummer the more I think about it. But that also makes for compelling settings. Seeing the difference between Hector's slum and de la Cruz's massive stadium / home looks gorgeous. Both have been given equal consideration to detail. I kind of want to beat myself up, but all of this is part of the impressive world building that goes into these movies. Seeing clips of de la Cruz's films just shows how much detail goes into these films.
The movie also really hangs on having a great twist. Coco got me really cocky about thinking that I figured out the twist of the movie. But thank you, movie, for being slightly smarter than I am. (I know lots of people figured out the final twist of the movie. I'm proud of you.) I figured out a lot of the twist and rested on my laurels. Then there was a twist that was just staring me in the face that I missed. Geez, good for you movie. It also helps that the twist was not just there just to have it, but it makes the movie have such a better emotional resonance. For the most part, the relationships of the characters (for the most part) is heartwarming. There are some odd choices, but the relationship between Hector, played by Gael García Bernal, and Miguel is pretty fantastic. But there is a bit of a problem that people noticed in Frozen first. I liked this problem in Frozen better, but I have a problem with it in Coco. It is the idea that a character that seems moral the entire story becomes evil to both extend the plot and reinforce the theme. The message of the movie is very pro-music (I'll get to that in a bit), but that would make the movie too easy. (I'm trying to stay spoiler free, so just see the movie to see what I'm talking about.) So a character's backstory had to be intentionally misleading to make the story work. It's very much a Hans in Frozen situation. We know that Anna can't end up with Hans, so he has to hard right turn and have his background misleading. I defended it with Frozen, but I don't like that it is now a trope. Regardless, the resulting bond that comes between Hector and Miguel is pretty fantastic.
The thing that I didn't really get was the music attachment. I love the theme of music being important. I love the arts. The idea of a pro-arts movie for kids is great. But there was a bit more "tell" and not enough "show." I get that Hector loved music and the entire point of him hanging out in the afterlife was so that he could play music for the rest of his life. But the emotional weight doesn't fall on music as much as the movie says it does. Rather, the movie hangs on the family aspect, which is really how the movie started. The movie starts with a history of why the family hates music so much. But the family is very close. They watch out for one another and they are sensitive about music to not upset the matriarch of the family. Admittedly, these scenes are some of my favorite in the movie. In the afterlife, this emotional connection is maintained, if not heightened. Everyone honestly cares for Miguel, but don't want to see him lead the life of a musician. They are wrong, of course, but the message of the movie at the end isn't the importance of music. The movie, at the end, is about the importance of family. Focus on the family is a great theme, but the movie told me something different for the majority of the movie. There is a bit too much of a "cake-and-eat-it-too" situation to the movie. This is a really minor violation, but it also stops the movie from being absolutely great for me. When the movie wants it all, the story kind of suffers. I never really got the notion that music really takes an importance in this world outside of Miguel telling me that music was great. Even Hector's love of music is a really background idea. Again, I'm avoiding spoilers if I can, but Hector's reasoning behind hiding his music is noble. But then why focus on the importance of music if it is just going to be buried in the long run.
I liked it a lot. The kids are probably going to get this movie eventually. I know them. Despite being terrified by everything, they are going to watch part of this movie a billion times. I think there is also terrifying about seeing slightly scary things on a really big screen. Regardless, the movie is pretty great. Go see it, but don't set your expectations irrationally high.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.