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Coco - Spoiler-free review

Posted by Nathan Strum, 28 November 2017 · 457 views

Movies Animation

I actually got to see Pixar's Coco at a sneak preview at work a couple of weeks ago, but couldn't write anything about it until the movie was in theaters. (I work at CalArts in the Character Animation Program, for those that haven't been following along.)
It was an interesting screening, because Disney had what I could only describe as their Secret Service on hand to make sure nobody recorded anything or took pictures. Several dark-suited individuals (I don't recall but I'm almost sure they had to be wearing sunglasses), stood in the front corners of the theater with very stern looking expressions on their faces. There were numerous signs that we had to put up in the theater about not recording or spoiling anything about the movie, including threats of fines and other fun legal action.
Although I guess since I only write Spoiler-free reviews... I probably technically could've gotten away with writing this review sooner. :ponder: But it probably wouldn't have been worth the risk of getting my kneecaps busted.
I wonder though - were those really Disney Secret Service? Or did they just use cast members from Disneyland who wanted a little overtime? For all I know, they're usually dressed up as Chip 'n' Dale or Snow White.
The other reason the screening was interesting, is because we were watching the movie in a theater full of animation nerds. So if a movie is really good, then the reaction will be really enthusiastic. On the other hand, if the movie is a stinker, then the reactions can be... brutal (which in their own way can be entertaining).
Since The Good Dinosaur, I haven't bothered with Pixar. I skipped Finding Dory and Cars 3, because the former just looked like a rehash of Finding Nemo, and Cars 2 was just too awful to give that franchise another chance. I almost skipped Coco too. None of the trailers or commercials appealed to me at all. But I decided that Pixar had more hits than misses, and besides, I was effectively getting paid to watch it. So why not? It's... research. Yeah. That's it.
Unfortunately - I didn't think Coco was very good. The main problem I had with it was that it was just too predictable - to the point of being trite. The basic premise has been done to death: kid wants to pursue music, but his family doesn't want him to. Kid pursues music anyway. Family finds out. Stuff happens. You can figure it out from there. Coco isn't even the first animated film this year to have this exact same story, either.
Now, it's not all that uncommon to have the same basic premise as other films, but even within its details, Coco was too predictable. There are a couple of supposed plot "twists" that are meant to surprise the audience. But the film telegraphs them so early, they should come as no surprise to anyone by the time they're revealed. They certainly didn't surprise me - I sat there for some 20 minutes waiting for the movie to just get on with it already. I should point out that during a couple of these "reveals", the audience I was with reacted as the studio hoped they would, with vocal shock and awe. But someone I talked to with afterwards wasn't entirely sure that wasn't sarcasm. I honestly don't know. Maybe they were making fun of the obvious. Or maybe they just aren't familiar enough yet with recycled film clichés to recognize the obvious.
Even though the story is all-too-familiar, what should have made this film more original was that the story takes place within the context of Mexico's Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). And although there are story points and visual elements unique to that, Coco is now the second animated film within the last few years based in that setting.
The other problem that I had was that the main character was just so generic, that by the end of the movie, I'd forgotten his name. And no - it isn't Coco. That's another character in the film. In fact, it's a secondary character in the film. But due to advertising, the name Coco was so burned into my brain before ever seeing the film, I never really paid attention to what the main character's name actually was. The fact that he was called by a nickname during part of the movie didn't help, either.
Now, I want to make it clear that Coco isn't a bad film. The animation is really well done. There's a dog in particular that's a great deal of fun to watch, that reminds me of Scrat from the Ice Age films. (Maybe too much, since it doesn't really fit with the rest of the film's style... as if Pixar were saying, "Look! We can do wacky, too!") There are some genuinely funny moments here and there, and a couple of heartfelt ones. But given the film's predictability, there's never a sense of real menace, or urgency, or consequence. There are some scenes that are visually impressive, but nothing that really "wowed" me like the best Pixar films used to do. Even when we visit the Land of the Dead, so much of it still looks like the real world, it becomes kind-if boring. Overall, the film is... competent. Professionally made and visually polished, but nothing I'd go out of my way to see.
That said, Coco has been getting rave reviews. Maybe people are just really glad it's not another sequel (or The Good Dinosaur). Maybe I'm just jaded. But I didn't connect with Coco. I sat there, distantly, fully aware I was watching a movie. But never losing myself in it.
In the end, I think Coco is just so-so. Want to go-go? I'd say no-no. It gets a 5/10.

That last sentence. Man, if you keep writing like that you'll have to grow a big bushy mustache and frizzy hair.

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Yeah - definitely a bit of Gene Shalit in there. :)

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So ya weren't Cuckoo for Coco (Puffs)...

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I find Pixar has more misses than hits...

Remember that every Disney movie since the last Lilo & Stitch was a D-P production.

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Not exactly - Pixar and Disney Feature Animation are still separate studios. Even though Pixar is owned by Disney, Pixar isn’t responsible for any of Disney’s other films. They don’t have any say in them. The opposite is quite true, however - Disney is fully responsible for what Pixar puts out. And I think this has been to Pixar’s detriment.
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