Friday, November 24, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Coco (2017)

While many people like to shop on Black Friday, our family usually goes to see a movie!

Our Black Friday movies tend to be animated films released by studios for Thanksgiving vacation. The last few years, for example, our Black Friday movies have included FROZEN (2013), THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015), and MOANA (2016).

Today we saw the Disney-Pixar film COCO (2017), which joins the ranks of great animated films. Brimming with beauty and creativity, it's a top-level film ranking with Pixar's very best.

I'm especially happy to say that, given that I'd been dubious about seeing COCO in the first place! (A marvelous live concert performance by Benjamin Bratt at last summer's D23 Expo helped persuade me to give it a try.) I was uncertain how I'd feel about what I perceived as "ugly" visuals (skeletons galore!) along with the film's thematic elements, including the treatment of the afterlife. As it turned out, none of that mattered at all.

The story and warm-hearted personalities carried me past the way the skeletons looked, all the more so as the setting in which they were seen was stunningly beautiful; and I approached the story as fantasy, along the lines of something like A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946), letting go of any need to match it up with my theological beliefs.

Set in Mexico, COCO tells the story of young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who longs to be a musician like the late, great Mexican singing star Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt). Miguel's family, however, forbids any music whatsoever, especially his Abuelita (Renee Victor).

As Miguel's town prepares for the annual Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), when it's believed ancestors return to visit their families, Miguel dreams of performing in a talent show and visits Ernesto's tomb to "borrow" the guitar hanging over it. Thus begins a very unusual adventure as Miguel unexpectedly journeys to the Land of the Dead, where he meets the relatives he's only seen in pictures and learns the secret behind his family's rejection of music.

That's a very bare bones (sorry) description of the plot; I don't wish to spoil any surprises regarding this most unusual film, which simply needs to be experienced. The film melds wonderful music with a loving depiction of Mexican family and culture, told in scenes of breathtaking artistry. For those like me who may have had concerns going in, this isn't really a film about the dead; it's a celebration of life, which is underscored in the final moments as Miguel "introduces" his baby sister to her relatives.

As I write, the film is rated 9.1 out of 10 at IMDb, an unusually high rating which is richly deserved. As Disney historian Leonard Maltin wrote earlier this week, "This is Pixar at its best."

The voice cast also includes Gael Garcia Bernal, Alanna Ubach, Edward James Olmos, and Jaime Camil. The filmmakers worked in a line for Pixar's "good luck charm," John Ratzenberger, among the otherwise all-Latin voice cast.

COCO was directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. The score includes songs by Michael Giacchino and Molina, as well as Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (FROZEN). The film runs 109 minutes.

Parental Advisory: COCO is rated PG for "thematic elements." That seems about right. There was one section early on which I reflected would have given me nightmares if I'd seen it as an impressionable young child. For children old enough to get past the skeletons and the referenced thematic elements, it's a very uplifting film about love, family, and the "circle of life."

A trailer is here.

COCO is preceded by a new Disney short, OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE (2017), which at 21 minutes is much longer than the usual Disney or Pixar shorts. Unlike the eight-minute FROZEN FEVER (2015) of two years ago, which I found quite disappointing, OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE is charming. It features new songs including the lovely "When We're Together." I already ordered my CD, along with a COCO CD!

COCO and OLAF'S FROZEN ADVENTURE are highly recommended.


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