FlixChatter Review – COCO (2017)

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Directed By: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Written By: Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz , Matthew Aldrich & Adrian Molina
Runtime: 1h 49min

Before I get into this review, I want to address one of the main arguments I’ve heard about it: that Coco is a rip-off of DreamWorks’s 2013 film The Book of Life. I don’t think this is a fair assessment. The only major similarity is that they’re both centered around Dia de Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday honoring the dead. Besides that, each movie has different storylines, tones, and animation styles. If there are going to be two movies about a holiday from an underrepresented culture, all the better.

The young protagonist Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez)

Coco is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young aspiring musician whose family bans music from their home after Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife and daughter (Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco, played by Ana Ofelia Murguía) to become a famous musician. On El Dia de los Muertos, Miguel breaks into the tomb of his idol, the famous Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), to borrow his guitar for a talent contest. As soon as he strums the strings, he is transported to The Land of the Dead, where, along with his new friend and guide Hector (Gael García Bernal) he learns more about his family and their past, and the role music has played in it.

Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt)

This is easily my new favorite Pixar movie. The story is so unique, and there are some surprisingly dire stakes and dark twists, but it’s still accessible to all ages. Yes, it’s a kids’ movie, but it’s a kids movie that is centered around a holiday dedicated to the dead, which isn’t exactly a light subject. The film handles the subject beautifully, though, sending a strong message about the importance of family and remembering lost loves ones, passing stories from generation to generation. And, of course, the end of the movie will make you cry, because PIXAR THRIVES ON YOUR TEARS. If I had to nitpick, I’d say that some of the exposition about Dia de Los Muertos felt like someone reading from a Spanish textbook, not like a grandmother (Renee Victor as Abuelita) explaining it to her grandson (Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel), who would presumably know about the holiday already anyway. It’s not a huge deal, but it still stood out to me.

Renee Victor as the voice of Abuelita

A strong script like this requires a strong cast to bring it to life, and the cast of Coco is fantastic, but there are a couple actors who especially stand out. Anthony Gonzalez is incredibly talented for such a young actor; he manages to be endearing without being cloying and holds his own alongside veteran performers. Gael García Bernal (AKA my celebrity husband ever since I saw El Crimen del Padre Amaro in college) is wonderful as Hector, giving both excellent comedic delivery as well as genuinely touching, emotional performances.

In addition to the acting, the cast is made up of incredible singers. The music in this movie is easily my favorite thing about it, blending a mix of classic Mexican folk songs with original pieces. The styles range from ranchera to Golden Age Mexican cinema ballads, and it’s all masterfully performed by the cast. Anthony’s voice is angelic but surprisingly full; I was delighted when he first burst into “Un Poco Loco,” his big number he performs with Hector. I had no idea Gael could sing so well (my only experience hearing him was in the baffling cover of “I Want You to Want Me” in Rudo y Cursi), but he has such a warm, rich tone, and his lullaby version of “Remember Me” is heart-wrenching.

Miguel with Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal)

I didn’t realize Benjamin Bratt, the actor who voices famous musician Ernesto de la Cruz, could sing as well; I had to check IMDB after hearing his smooth, booming voice to make sure it was actually him singing (the insanely talented Antonio Sol sings for the character for “The World is Mi Familia” and “La Llorona,” but Bratt holds his own in “Remember Me” and “Much Needed Advice”). The musical show stealer, though, is Alanna Ubach as Mama Imelda. Her rendition of “La Llorona” toward the end of the movie is phenomenal. My only complaint is that its her only full song in the movie.

Miguel with Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach)

The only thing more vibrant than this film’s soundtrack is, of course, its animation. Pixar has really outdone itself with this movie. It’s as technically impressive as its predecessors, with incredibly realistic detail, but Coco is so much more colorful and imaginative than anything I’ve seen from them so far. Their interpretation of the Land of the Dead is breathtaking, and the way they animate the movement of its skeletal citizens is so creative. I especially love the brightly-colored alebrijes, these fantastical creatures ranging from cute and goofy to majestic and intimidating. There’s too much to take in in one viewing-so, obviously, I plan on watching this multiple times.

Not only is this my new favorite Pixar movie, it’s my favorite movie I’ve reviewed this year. It’s incredibly well-written, the acting is solid, the music is moving, and the animation is visually stunning. I strongly recommend checking this out if you get the chance. You will not be disappointed.

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Have you seen ‘COCO’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Commentary: A thing or two the movie industry can learn from Steve Jobs

Thanks to my beloved hubby Ivan M. (a.k.a. Pixelcrave) for this special contribution.

I love Pixar movies! I have watched every one of them (except for the last one, Cars 2) and can honestly say each one is very much enjoyable to watch. Even the weakest one in my book (Cars) was still a fun experience.

With the recent news about Steve Jobs stepping down from his CEO role at Apple, the focus has mainly been of his “fruit” company and its ubiquitous gadgets that start with a lowercase “i”. But it’s hard to think about Pixar without acknowledging the fact that after all Jobs was the first to recognize its potentials, and made the investment in what would eventually be one of the best contributions to the movie industry.

A lot has been said since the news came about, including a few movies-related articles like this that highlight the “origin” story of Pixar — how Jobs purchased an almost defunct computer graphics division from George Lucas for $10 million, stroke a big distribution deal with Disney, and turned it into an animation powerhouse that has produced twelve feature films, most of which have received critical and financial success.

It’d be a very long post to even try to list all the things that you can learn from Mr. Jobs. But for the purpose of this article, I’d like to focus on only two things that are very much relevant to the movies & entertainment industry.

Quality over quantity

When Jobs returned to Apple in 1996 (after being ousted by his own company 11 years earlier), the company was in a big financial red. Jobs’ first order of business to return to black is by terminating a number of Apple products and only focus on a handful of core products that he believes has the most potentials to succeed.

Jobs applied the same principle to Pixar. He is not as hands-on nor micro-managing in Pixar as he is in Apple, but the one thing he made sure of was for Pixar to focus on quality movies — even if that means not producing as many movies as possible, despite pressure from analysts. Contrast this to how Hollywood studios have been operating, creating sequels after sequels in a ridiculously short period of time, all for the sake of generating profits even if it compromise quality.

“The great thing about Steve is that he knows that great business comes from great product. First you have to get the product right, whether it’s the iPod or an animated movie,” says Peter Schneider, the former chairman of Disney’s studio. In fact, Jobs admitted that Pixar often had to make a difficult decision to halt production of each of its movies, to first fix outstanding issues with a storyline or character. Think about it: there are only 12 Pixar movies since Jobs bought the company 25 years ago! That’s a minuscule number compared to Hollywood’s standard. Yet, the $602 million average gross of its movies is by far the highest of any studio in the industry (per Wikipedia). “I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do,” Jobs often says.

Ideas first and foremost

Neither iPod nor iPhone were successful because they were the first in the market. They were successful because they were designed around the idea of simplicity — something that’s not typically associated with hi-tech gadgets. Pixar’s Toy Story was the first feature film that was made entirely with CGI. Yet its technology was not the big idea that eventually skyrocketed the company’s valuation into over $7 billion when Disney acquired it in 2006. Toy Story and other Pixar’s movies that follow simply connect with audiences — whether it’s children, younger/older generations, even people of various cultures. The storyline & strong character development behind every movie are ultimately what drive the company’s success. Talking about the working culture at Apple, Jobs once said in an interview, “you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.”

I can only ponder how many movies out there today where the original ideas and vision have been compromised because of pressure from big studios who get the paycheck. It’s no surprise that a lot of the critically-acclaimed movies are coming from smaller, independent studios where ideas and creativity can be nurtured more freely.

Ultimately, the movie industry is as much about making money as any other for-profit business out there — Pixar and Apple not excluded. But what Steve has demonstrated through his two jobs is that he doesn’t compromise creativity and quality for the sole purpose of generating more revenue. For as many good quality movies out there, there are far more money-machine garbage out there that diminish the creative side of the industry.

Here’s hoping more non-compromising creative minds in the industry would share Jobs’ thinking when he says, “quality is more important than quantity. One home run is much better than two doubles.”


So what do you think about Pixar and Steve Jobs in particular? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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