Movie review: Coco

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film has finally landed in my local theatres. This is Coco!

IMDb summary: Aspiring musician Miguel, confronted with his family’s ancestral ban on music, enters the Land of the Dead to find his great-great-grandfather, a legendary singer.

Just before we start, here are the links to my other Pixar reviews: Cars 3, Finding Dory, Inside Out.

Writing

Coco was written by Adrian Molina (worked on Monsters University, Toy Story 3, The Good Dinosaur, Ratatouille) and Matthew Aldrich (who doesn’t have much on his IMDb). Disney/Pixar have been dipping their toes into different cultures more and more (just recently with Moana) and have been attempting to showcase these certain cultures without appropriating them. I think that they succeed at this with Coco. On a side note, Coco is not the first animated film to have explored the day of the dead – 4 years ago, 20th Century Fox animation studios made The Book of Life to little or no fanfare. This only goes to show the importance of the attachment of a big name to any project – people trust Pixar, similarly how they trust Marvel or up until recently, Lucasfilm.

Anyways, back to Coco. So, Molina and Aldrich took the rituals and the beliefs of Dia de Los Muertos and turned them into a mythology of the film. To my mind, they were respectful of the culture and did a very good job of explaining it/informing others about it. I’ve always been interested in this particular celebration (even wrote a paper on it in my first year of uni), however, I only had a limited knowledge of it and Pixar’s Coco expanded it. I loved how they also included other iconic elements/people from the Mexican culture (loved the recurring Frida Kahlo gag). I also liked how the move took something culture-specific, like the idea that people decorate altars with photos, candles, and their ancestors’ favorite things, and used it in a very universal, familiar way, a.k.a in the shrine that Miguel dedicates to his favorite singer. While not all of us have made shrines for our favorite things, I’m certain that everybody who reads this blog has at least one movie poster on their wall. I can tell you that I’ve made many movie shrines in my days.

From the structural point of view, I thought that Coco was a well-written and fun adventure. It had some unexpected twists and turns. Thematically, the movie explored the idea of a family v. individual, though, the true conflict of the film was secrets within a family. In addition, while the Dia de Los Muertos setting of the picture already made it a bit dark, some reveals in the third act made it even darker. The Dia de Los Muertos focus of the film also allowed Coco to stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors – that was such a nice message to spread. Lastly, in the usual Pixar fashion, all the heartstrings were pulled by Coco too.

Directing

Lee Unkrich (director of Toy Story 3, who has also worked on other Pixar films in various roles since the creation of the beloved studio) directed Coco and did a magnificent job. To begin with, the whole animation department at Pixar should get raises or a standing ovation every morning because Coco was the most beautiful animated picture I have ever seen. The amount of detail that went into the design, the vibrancy of the colors, the lighting – everything was just perfect. A lot of these praises are based just on the original visual appeal of Dia de Los Muertos but I do think that the animators deserve recognition for their work of translating this real-world visual appeal into an animated form. I loved the opening sequence with the backstory given through papercuts – it was both original and a culturally-appropriate way to do exposition.  In addition, I loved the aural cultural aspects that were included – mainly the music and how it was both there to embellish the story and be an important part of the story. ‘Remember Me’ was such a great song and, while it might not be the catchiest one, it carried so much sentimental weight. Lastly, the film was paced very well too. It had a good mix of funny moments, entertaining action, educational information, and heart-wrenching emotions.

Voice work

Anthony Gonzalez voiced Miguel and did such a brilliant job. He had such an expressive and strong voice that was just perfect for the lead in an animated film. Gael García Bernal voiced Héctor, while Benjamin Bratt (he does quite a lot of voice work and was recently in Doctor Strange) was Ernesto. I also really loved the brief but important work of Renée Victor (as Abuelita Elena) and Ana Ofelia Murguía (as Mamá Coco) in the movie. One brought such energy to the character, while the other – such love and affection to her respective character.

In short, Coco was a beautiful story brought to life by gorgeous animation and majestic voice work. This is one of those reviews, where any positive synonym of the word ‘beautiful’ works. And the film is very much worthy of all praise.

Rate: 4.8/5 (I’m taking a few points off not because of the movie but because of its messed up international release date)

Trailer: Coco trailer

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Movie review: Cars 3

Movie reviews

Hello!

The latest Pixar film – Cars 3 – has hit theaters. Let’s see whether the beloved studio can repeat the cinematic success for the gazillionth time.

IMDb summary: Lightning McQueen sets out to prove to a new generation of racers that he’s still the best race car in the world.

I, like the majority of cinephiles, am a huge fan of Pixar and have seen all of their films multiple times. The original Cars picture is one of my favorite Pixar films (it is just outside my top three childhood animated films – Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and Monsters, Inc.). However, I can hardly remember what happened in Cars 2. Hopefully, the third film is more in line with the original rather than the sequel. One thing is for sure, Cars is more than a movie franchise – it’s a global merchandise brand (and a cultural/capitalistic phenomenon) as widespread as the Minions.

Writing

Cars 3 was written by a studio’s film developer Kiel Murray, a Pixar veteran writer Bob Peterson, and a writer of sports films Mike Rich, based on a story by the director of the picture Brian Fee, a TV producer Ben Queen, a TV actor Eyal Podell, and quite an inexperienced writer Jonathan E. Stewart (a lot of cooks in the kitchen).

I enjoyed the story of the film quite a lot: I especially liked the ideas and the message. The treatment for the characters was also interesting and worthy of discussion. Let’s star with the themes: I loved the juxtaposition between the modernity and the traditionalism, the rookies and the old-school racers. More importantly, I give props to the movie for making the ultimate message about the combination of both – it’s important to move on while also acknowledging one’s roots (plus, the idea that all seniors have once been rookies).  I also applaud the scriptwriters for including realistic aspects such as the camaraderie between the race cars as well as the bullying that happens within a sport (psychological mind frames) into the script.

The character development was also not bad. The new opponent – Jackson Storm – felt like a stereotype of a millennial (EDM music, flashing neon night club-like lights, and sarcasm). Cruz Ramirez was delightful – not only was she a female racer but a good one too. I loved how hers and McQueen’s relationship was reciprocal – they learned different things from one another and were fluctuated between being students and teachers. I also wonder whether the ending twist of the film means that Ramirez will now be at the forefront of the franchise moving forward. McQueen himself had a good arc in this film too. I liked all the jokes about him being old but I think that he should not have been as cocky as he was – he literally made the same mistake in the first film – shouldn’t he have learned by now?

The returning character of Mater (the tow truck) had barely anything to do. This might have been because he was heavily featured in Cars 2 and nobody liked that, so the filmmakers were careful about using him. However, an homage was paid to another character from the original – the mentor Doc Hudson. The character did not even appear onscreen in person (in car-son?) but the plot revolved about his role in McQueen’s life.

Directing 

Brian Fee made his directorial debut with Cars 3. He has previously worked on Pixar projects as a storyboard artist. For his first directing effort, Fee did a brilliant job. Of course, he had the help of amazing Pixar animators. The animated visuals were astounding as usual and yet I’m still surprised how much emption the animators are able to make these cars convey. The pacing was really good for the most part – the narrative was unraveling quickly – but the film did slow down before the third act (that’s a major problem for a lot of mainstream pictures).

The movie had a few distinct sequences, which I quite liked. Both of the training montages were fun, especially the car aerobics scenes. The wild racing sequence with the bull-like school bus was not something I expected from Pixar but it was, nonetheless, fun to watch. The new stylistic modifications for the cars were cool too but I can’t help but feel that they were included in order to sell more new toys.

Voice work

While I don’t think that the voice cast of the Cars franchise is super iconic, it was still nice to hear the returning actors, like Owen Wilson and the comedian Larry the Cable. The newcomers Armie Hammer and Cristela Alonzo were also great.

Short picture

Before Cars 3, an animated short was screened (this is a usual practice). Dave Mullins’s LOU felt like a cute combo of Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. 

In short, Cars 3 might not be the best Pixar movie but it is definitely a return to form for the franchise. Their next release is the Dia De Los Muertos themed flick Coco and then, a sequel I have been waiting for a decade – The Incredibles 2.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Cars 3 trailer

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