POSTED January 15, 2018
To start talking about “Coco” one needs to talk about Pixar: the animation powerhouse that created a genre of computer-generated imagery (CGI) films. With a catalog of extraordinary movies dating back to 1995, the anticipation for “Coco” was overtly viscous.
“Coco”’s weaknesses as a film outnumber its strengths to create a forgetful film that doesn’t live up to its parent company: Pixar. The strengths of this film are seen easily with its striking visuals. “Coco” is a landmark for the CGI genre as it stuns with its large and small attention to detail. The Land of the Dead is not only colorful, but full of life as every corner is animated with care and detail. To fully enjoy this film’s cinematics is simply seeing it on the big screen, the crisp animations and jaw-dropping spectacles will not translate as well to in-house enjoyment. This eliminates any re-watch value the film tries to make with its morals.
The other victory of “Coco” lies within its strong morals of family and its colorful characters. It’s easy to relate many members of Miguel’s family to the audience’s own. The grandmother and many cousins are easily relatable for anyone with a large family. The heavy moral of family is also clear and strong, giving a positive message to both children and parents of family support and individuality.
The last piece of positivity is the key component every Pixar movie has, that is the inevitable charm. Pixar once again creates colorful characters that both kids and adults enjoy. The interactions between the characters is cute and will leave many audience members in tears.
This is where the positives stop and the issues arrive. Before the film’s opening credits “Coco” hurt itself. With the expected previews over Pixar started its “short film”, a recurring segment that starts before the major picture. These are usually five to ten minutes long with relatively small amounts of dialogue. “Coco”’s was “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure”. Being indifferent to “Frozen” and its characters I didn’t expect much, but I have never been more uncomfortable in a theater in my life. Having a 21 minute run time, the children of the audience were confused when it finally did end, thinking that was the movie and were getting ready to leave. Being 21 minutes long isn’t what made this “short” so terrible however. It was the most uninteresting story and contained so many musical numbers you’d be surprised to find out it was only 21 minutes. The other failure of “Coco” before the film started was having three members of the creative staff ruin the reveal of the Land of the Dead on the theater screen.
When “Coco” finally started it didn’t do much to redeem it’s already low performance. It is early established that music plays a strong part of Miguel’s life, to the point that he wants to pursue a career in it. This is perhaps “Coco”’s only surprise: music is almost completely disregarded from the film. Sure it has a couple of music moments for Miguel sprinkled in the story, but the significance of music is lost and alienates Miguel from the audience. Not to mention the kid is portrayed as a prodigy when his performances are mediocre at best. With the conflicting principles Miguel doesn’t even know if it’s family or music he’s looking for, confusing the audience to Miguel’s true intentions. It is clear that Miguel wants to pursue music when the plot tries to push family and vise versa so the audience is left detached from Miguel.
The other lacking aspect is the character development. Most characters are static through the first and second act of this film. The film focuses on the environment and world building, rather than focusing on the characters. This creates forgettable characters with little to no arcs.
The plot tries to develop around Miguel but falls to the most overused protagonist arc that is summed up perfectly with ‘A Hero’s Journey’.* The banal character has been seen so many times that watching “Coco” will feel like just about any other cinematic movie. This unoriginal story tries to hide its incompetence through strong morals of family, pandering, and beautiful CGI. Beside being a trite story “Coco”’s third act is drawn out and leaves an unsatisfactory end that could have been achieved twenty minutes before. It was clear that the movie was stretching to have a run time over 90 minutes.
“Coco” tries to add its own plot twists that could surprise children who aren’t lost in its painfully convoluted story of who is Miguel’s father. Any competent audience member will stay three steps ahead of the story because of the achingly obvious clues the movie gives. It was clear that “Coco” was trying to recreate the surprise of “Toy Story 2”, “Monster’s Inc”, or even “Up”’s end revels.
This is a kid’s movie so this is a small gripe that doesn’t affect the overall movie, but Pixar (and Disney) movies have become famous for their subtle, almost risqué, humor that keeps the parents engaged with the story. “Coco” lacks this humor entirely and most of the kid’s jokes didn’t even land, losing the humorous reputation that Pixar has built.
I was disappointed with “Coco” and to an extent Pixar. The magic of early Pixar seems to be waning with its modern movies; Pixar is innovating the visuals to an unprecedented level, but losing the magic storytelling that we’ve come to expect from Pixar movies.