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

Coco_(2017_film)_poster

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Movie review: Finding Dory

Movie reviews

Hello!

The summer is coming to an end but the summer movie season is not over yet, thus, allow me to review another movie. This time, it’s Finding Dory!

IMDb summary: The friendly but forgetful blue tang fish begins a search for her long-lost parents, and everyone learns a few things about the real meaning of family along the way.

I’m a huge Pixar fan (who isn’t?). I have seen all Pixar feature film multiple times and enjoyed the viewing experience immensely, time and time again. Growing up, I would constantly rewatch Monsters, Inc., The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo and these 3 movies are still at the top of ‘My Favorite Animated Pictures of All Time’ list. I was really happy when Monsters Inc got a prequel in 2013 and wasn’t disappointed by it and I also cannot wait for 2019’s The Incredibles 2. I have been waiting for the Finding Nemo sequel for more than a decade, so I was more than excited to see it. Sadly, due to the awful international release schedules, I had to wait 2 months more than the rest of the world. But, the wait is over, so let’s go and find Dory!

The screening of the picture that I attended mostly had kids in the audience. The majority of them weren’t even born when Finding Nemo came out. Needless to say, this kinda made me feel old.

Piper

Before I talk about Finding Dory, I want to briefly touch upon the animated short Piper that they showed before the feature. It was made by Alan Barillaro and was absolutely amazing. The animation looked extremely realistic. The actual plot of the short film was really cute and sweet but still had an important message – it encouraged the viewers to be brave and step out of their comfort zones.

Writing

Finding Dory’s screenplay was written by the director of the film Andrew Stanton and TV writer Victoria Strouse. Stanton wrote and directed Finding Nemo, A Bug’s Life, and WALL-E and has also helped out with the scripts of  Monster’s Inc. and all 3 Toy Story pictures. He is also set to co-write Toy Story 4, while Strouse will be penning the live-action Tinkerbell’s screenplay. I really enjoyed the narrative that they created for this film. The story was both simple and clever, funny and genuine. The character development was never forced but came out organically during the dialogue. The set up for the big adventure was a both obvious and logical. As usual, Pixar also pulled on its viewers’ hearts strings. The jokes worked too even if they got kind dark at times (that bucket of dead fish).

Finding Dory also did a good job of introducing new characters, while also giving some screen time to the old favorites. We did get Dory’s full backstory (prequel) as well as a Finding Nemo sequel (the next adventure). We also find out what happened to the dentist office’s tank gang from the first film in the post-credits scene. Of the new characters, Hank, the octopus, Destiny, the whale shark and Bailey, the beluga whale, were the most interesting and useful to the story. Through Destiny’s character, we found out how Dory learned to speak whale. Hank allowed the movie to move (literally – the octopus was the only one who could go on land), while Bailey was super helpful in the last act. I also really liked the fact that the majority of the new characters had disabilities, so, Dory wasn’t just the only one who was different. In addition, all 3 new supporting fish received small resolutions to their own stories, which tied up the movie nicely.

The overarching theme that was carried out from Finding Nemo was, of course, family. The main focus was shifted from Nemo’s to Dory’s family, but the message of the film remained the same or at least similar. The 2 ideas – that ‘parents have to let their kids go’ and that ‘friends can also become family members’ – were realized and portrayed carefully and cleverly. The ‘just keep swimming’ line (I still have it on my inspiration board, as I’m a competitive swimmer – it is both my motto for life and for swimming) as well as Dory’s philosophy to just kinda live spontaneously and without a plan were also great parts of the movie. Lastly, Finding Dory had a strong anti-captivity message. I wonder if they did that so that the clown fish and the regal blue tang population would not suffer, as this has happened in 2003 after the first flick came out and all the children wanted to have their own Nemo and Dory.

Directing

For the director Andrew Stanton, Finding Dory was his 4th Pixar film and only 5th picture altogether.  I think he did a great job with this project. To begin with, the actual animation of the picture was realized beautifully: the settings of the ocean and all the different aquariums were just absolutely gorgeous, while the character design was the right amount of cartoon mixed with realism. The young Dory was an extremely cute character – those huge eyes were adorable. I also really liked the fact that the movie knew that it was really cute and used to their own advantage – that moment with otters distracting the drivers with their cuteness was a bit meta.

Going back to the animated visuals – the movements of the octopus were so fluid and so real looking too. I also appreciated the fact that they showed so many different locations and even had a lot of action on land. That ending, though, was a bit much and too cartoonish. I know we are talking about a movie with talking fish, but that ‘jumping out of a truck with the slow-mo and that cheesy song’ type of an ending was a bit too out there.

One other criticism of the film was the fact that it did repeat more than a few ideas from Finding Nemo, while slightly repackaging them: once again, we got a lot of action in the aquarium, only this time, the tank stood in the oceanology institute rather than in the dentist’s office. The character traveled in the current with the turtles again. The bird was used for transport for the 2nd time too.

Lastly, guess whose song was playing during the credits? If you though Sia’s, you were correct. This time, it was the song Unforgettable, written especially for this film. Her songs have also been featured in The Shallows and The Neon Demon recently.

Voice work

Since animated movies are dubbed in my home country, I wasn’t able to hear Ellen DeGeneres as Dory, but I’m sure that she was great, like the rest of the cast. I also have to give props to the people who voiced the characters in the Lithuanian version of the film – they did a much better job than the people who dubbed the characters in The BFG film. Spielberg’s live-action fairytale was awful to listen to, while Finding Dory’s dubbing didn’t bother me much or even at all. Nonetheless, I still can not wait to get back to the UK, so that I would be able to enjoy the original English versions of the animated films.

In short, Finding Dory was another great film by Pixar. It wasn’t Finding Nemo, or as original and fresh as Inside Out but way better than the last Pixar feature – The Good Dinosaur. Only one question remains, where do they go now? Will there be a 3rd Finding picture since Pixar has started to dip their toes into the sequel business? Or is this the end for the fishy franchise?

Rate: 4.25/5

Trailer: Finding Dory trailer

FindingDoryPoster.jpg