Coco (Unkrich & Molina; 2017)

Pixar’s latest Coco is the story of Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez), a Mexican boy who wants to be a musician but was born into a family of music-hating cobblers.   His long dead idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) always told people that they needed to seize their moment, but when Miguel decides to do just that by showing what a great musician he is in front of everybody at a Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival he instead becomes cursed and is sent to the Land of the Dead himself alongside a stray dog named Dante.

Since Toy Story in 1995, Pixar Studios have been the masters of bringing us formulaic but hilarious and heartwarming family entertainment with an emphasis on the family.  The standard Pixar story is one we’ve become incredibly familiar with – fish out of water characters are forced into and ultimately embrace something outside of their normal comfort zone and learn a lesson which makes them a better part of their community and a happier person – and, they have done it so well over and over again that except for a handful of missteps they are some of the most beloved family films ever put to screen.  They always manage to skew the familiar just enough that our brains don’t ever have to put too much effort into being entertained, but we also manage to come away with what seems like a new, original perspective every time.


Coco is quintessential Pixar.  By using Mexican folklore, and in particular their holiday and lore surrounding the afterlife, they give us the framework needed to make the familiar family-oriented story something new as well as finally giving Hispanic culture a much needed big budget major release representation.  The ties between familial generations and a passion for music give us the story element we need to relate to, and the spirit guides, flower petal bridges, and rules of the great beyond are what give Coco its spectacle and wonder.

The animation on display in Coco is not the best we’ve seen from the studio, but it is impressive in how much thought the animators put into the details of the afterlife and its color palette is at times a true wonder.  Having to work with primarily skeletal figures for the major characters, however, does tend to hamstring variety as when every character is a skeleton with eyeballs, the only real differentiating factors are height and clothing.  This makes for an animated film in which the best animation is often in the background as that is where the artists can truly let their creativity loose.


Coco‘s script is a heartwarming one, but aside from a neat bit of writing prestidigitation in which they change the film’s message part way through, it is all quite predictable.  It’s a fantastic script for children who may not have seen these particular plot twists over and over again and therefore will actually be surprised, but the adults taking the kids to the movie will have to rely more on the humor and charm of the movie over its story for their entertainment value.

Final verdict:  This review is a little shorter than normal because Coco is a Pixar movie through and through and most already know the drill.  You’ve seen the story over and over before, but the Pixar variations on the theme are so well handled per their usual craftsmanship that you can overlook and possibly even enjoy the film more despite that.  Coco will make you laugh, cry, and smile and it will make you do all three exactly when they want you to.  Sure, it’s a manipulative film, all Pixar films are, but with master manipulators like these at the helm it’s a pleasure to allow them to do so.


P.S. The short film before Coco, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, was merely so-so.  More an advertisement for the upcoming Frozen 2 than anything else, it really didn’t have the usual low key pizzazz the Pixar opener’s usually do.  But, it does have excellent animation and Idina Menzel’s gorgeous vocals, so it gets at least a bit of a pass.  You have to watch it to get to the main event, anyway, so may as well enjoy it.

Finding Dory (Stanton & MacLane; 2016)

It’s been 13 years since Pixar brought us its 5th movie, Finding Nemo, a film about a practical, loving, but pessimistic widower clown fish named Marlin (Albert Brooks) who has to break out of his comfort zone when his son, Nemo (Hayden Rolence), is abducted.  Early on in his journey to save his son, Marlin runs into Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), a fish with short term memory loss, and Dory ends up being instrumental in the quest to find and save Marlin because of her optimism, charm, and her willingness to do the impractical and dangerous.

Finding Dory picks up shortly after the first film left off, we know this because the fish in the first film are mostly here and haven’t aged much if at all, with Dory now being a part of the community in the reef where Marlin and Nemo live.  She has a place and a family now, and probably because of the fact she now has a place where she can feel at home and call those around her family, Dory begins having flashes of memories of where she came from, and in particular of her mother and father.  She is compelled to find them, and Marlin and Nemo come along to help because she did the same for them.


They are absolutely thrilled to help out.

Finding Dory has an awful lot to live up to.  It’s the sequel to a film that introduced us to characters that have become inconic, the revolutionized the art of computer animation, and that solidified Pixar’s place as a company that could out-Disney Disney.  When it takes this long between films to release a sequel, there is more reason to hope that what we’ll be getting is a true labor of love and not just a studio making a cash grab while a commodity is hot.  Finding Dory is most definitely that labor of love, but while it is a good film, it is one that can’t match the original, unfortunately.

The characters in Finding Dory aren’t quite as charming as in the original.  There aren’t as many characters to be found here and the personalities aren’t as varied.  We can see that Marlin has truly grown as a, um, person? due to the influence of Dory in Finding Nemo.  While he is still a pessimist at heart, he’s learned to be able to set his doubts aside and put himself in harms way when the goal is important enough.  Other than Marlin, though, the returning characters don’t seem to have changed much if at all.  Most, in fact, receive nothing more than a quick cameo followed by a good bye.  The new characters don’t have as much of a range of personality as those in the original film, and really are just a group of agreeable, and very similar characters who serve no purpose in the story other than to guide Dory through one trial or another.  The only stand-out new character is the octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill) who really adds a lot of life to the story as a gruff old man with a heart of gold who just wants to be sent to an aquarium in Cleveland but gets dragged along on Dory’s adventure despite himself.


I’m really just Carl from Up.  Shh.  Don’t tell anybody.

The animation in Finding Dory is the true acheivement of the film.  As innovative as the animation in Finding Nemo was, the animation here is polished.  The colors are vibrant, the motion realistic, the framing is perfection, every second of the screen is a work of art the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Revenant and haven’t seen in an animated film since Spirited Away.  I am, of course, comparing Finding Dory to those films purely on quality and not on style.  Stylistically, Finding Dory is very much the child of its forerunner, but has improved on it in every single way, including charm.

The messages of family are definitely passed along from the original, and really aren’t expounded upon in any significant way.  The messages in Finding Nemo that family is the most important thing, but that family doesn’t necessarily have to be blood are all here, and shown to us in the same way and with very little to add.  It’s a good message, and it’s presented well, but it’s just a reminder for those who have seen Finding Nemo.  There is a bit of a new message in a running theme of people emulating Dory to be seen throughout the film, but this message is not only not as well unveiled to us as the messages on family, they are also not necessarily a positive message for a kid’s film, as this attitude causes as many problems as it solves, and in reality it could be highly dangerous.

Finding Dory is not going to be remembered as one of the greats in Pixar’s body of work.  In fact, it is ironically one of their more forgettable pieces.  It is still Pixar, though, which means that if nothing else it delivers a solid, if maybe a bit too familiar at times, story with gorgeous animation and charming characters with great voice acting.   This is a movie kids will love more than the adults, but the adults will still have fun.  If you have younger children, this one is a definite recommendation.  It’s a little more hit and miss for the adults out there, but I tend to lean more towards the hit side for all but the most cynical or pretentious out there in the movie going audience.

Rating:  7.8 out of 10