Never in my entire life has a theater-going experience taken such a sharp and lasting 180 as my time seeing Coco. I had entirely forgotten, somehow, that Pixar films tend to open with animated shorts, the vast majority of which are adorable. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, however, is not. I hated every minute of it. I genuinely considered leaving the theater multiple times, and just showing up to a different screening twenty minutes late to spare myself the pain. However, after enduring an experience that may have been less enjoyable than actually being frozen, I was rewarded aptly. I may never understand why (aside from money and millions of screaming children who have parents with money) Pixar would attach a short as agonizing as this to a movie as delightful as Coco, but if Olaf was the admission price, I’m damn glad to have paid it.
I’ll get back to Olaf’s Frozen Adventure at the end as a bonus review, but for now, on to Coco.
Coco follows a young boy named Miguel, who desperately wants to be a musician. His family on the other hand, in the grand tradition of Footloose, has more or less outlawed music for generations. His great-great-grandmother passed down this decree after her husband left the family to pursue his musical career. The family now makes shoes, and refuses to allow any music in or even near the house. All of this backstory is delivered at the very beginning of the film via a stunningly beautiful animation that kept me thoroughly entertained, and made me forget the exposition dump that I was actually sitting through.
I’ll spare you a full plot synopsis and jump to the moment where the story really gets moving. Miguel is accidentally trapped in the land of the dead on Dia de Los Muertos, and needs a blessing from a deceased member of his family to get back home. While this may sound like fairly standard kid movie stuff, I was actually surprised at the depth of emotion that Pixar was willing to display here.
Coco deals with real loss, real pain, and the only thing that might scare us all more than death: being completely forgotten, and just fading away. As off-putting as that may sound, the script handles it with great care and respect for the audience, without sugar coating the truth. I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to watch an animated film that isn’t pandering to little kids, but is instead taking questions asked by people of all ages and addressing them.
In spite of these weighty themes, Coco is never anything but a true delight. The characters are fun, the story moves at a brisk pace, and the visuals are unbelievable. Pixar has a well-deserved track record of making great-looking movies, but Coco is a whole other level of excellence in that department. The character models border on photorealistic at points while still maintaining their cartoony aesthetic. The color palate looks like fall barfed onto every inch of the world, but in the best way possible. The lighting effects are similarly stunning, and frequently left me awestruck.
Possibly equaling the grandeur of the visuals is the music. The Latin-inspired soundtrack was charming, energetic, and impossible not to enjoy. While I sincerely doubt that any children are going to be leaving the theater singing “Un Poco Loco” the way they did “Let it Go,” I can assure you that there is nothing poco about the gap in quality between these two songs. I can only hope that this will motivate audiences to explore music that isn’t easily accessible pop.
It is also worth noting that Pixar handled the focus on Latin culture far better than I had expected. It strikes me as obvious to focus on the Day of the Dead in a movie about a Latino child, but in the context of the film, it is not as culturally reductive as it initially sounds. The movie is not about the day of the dead, it’s about what it means to families. It’s about shining the spotlight on the way that a culture (of non-white people for a change) celebrates family and remembers loved ones.
The film does occasionally teeter towards formula, sadly. There is a “you lied to me!” falling out around the second act’s transition to the third, because of course there is. At least they stopped short of having characters huff out the word “Fine!” twenty times back and forth.
Furthermore, there are two quasi-twists (neither of which I will spoil here). Suffice it to say that the first one was drawn out for way too long, and I knew it was coming for literally the entire film up to that point. The second twist feels tonally out of place, and seems like a fairly cheap plot device to make the bad guy less likable. It works well enough, but it’s sad to see such obvious measures taken when most other elements of the film are handled with subtlety.
Coco is the closest thing to a risk that Disney or Pixar have taken in years, and it pays off. This film feels fresh, lively, and honestly emotional. There is no artificial emotion in play here, and I even found myself a little blurry eyed towards the end. If you doubt this, wait until your mind finally puts together why the film is called Coco when the main character’s name is Miguel.
All in all, Coco is a beautiful, energetic, and refreshing film. It is the rare animated feature that manages to appeal fully to both adults and children without feeling like it shortchanges either. For the first time in years, I actually feel excitement for what may come out of Pixar next. I can only hope that they continue inching into risky territory with their projects. If so, the future may look a lot more like Coco, and a lot less like Cars 4.
*****Tired of hearing me gush about Coco? Time for me to talk about Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. I promise you, there will be no gushing. Also, there will be profanity.*****
Fuck Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. It made me very very angry. It made me angry to the point where I was ready to leave the theater. I actually yelled “End!” at the screen after what felt like four hours of nonsensical noise. Mercifully, I was the only person in the theater at the time, so I didn’t have to fight any parents or children.
It’s Christmas time in Whateverthefucksville! Anna and Elsa are throwing a massive Christmas party for the whole town, and Olaf couldn’t be more excited. After much anticipation, the bell is struck, signaling the start of the holidays! As an aside, it’s worth noting that Kristof arrived with the bell on a cart, then magically teleported to the roof of the building where it was affixed.
After the bell is struck, everybody leaves the courtyard to go have their own family holiday traditions. This leaves Anna and Elsa time to reflect on their garbage childhoods, and then morosely leave the room without eating any of the mountains of food they had prepared. Olaf then takes it upon himself to go to every single house to take the resident’s belongings and learn about their traditions so that he can bring them back to his friends. Naturally, things go awry, and then there is a kind of a plot.
There are so many problems with this that I’m not sure where to begin. For one thing, the fucking thing is twenty minutes long. Most shorts are short. I could be wrong, but I always figured that’s why they call them shorts.
Another problem is that all of the music is forgettable, irritating, and poorly written. I understand that they won’t all be hits on the scale of “Let it Go” or hopefully “Un Poco Loco” (I really liked that one, cut me some slack), but without having done any research on the topic it feels like they got the C-list songwriters for this one. The lyrics are obvious callbacks to the actual movie, and they really just don’t fit. Other songs are kind of just meandering and don’t really have any clear melody.
Additionally, what the fuck does this have to do with Coco? I know that most Pixar shorts aren’t related to the movie they’re attached to, but most Pixar shorts also aren’t shameful commercials for their other IP. Most of the time, they’re tech tests for advancements being made for upcoming projects. I fail to see how this short is a tech test for any upcoming Pixar films. It is an advertisement, plain and simple.
This is the paragraph where I try to find something positive to say about Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. The cloth physics were really neat. There, I did it.
Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is everything bad about Disney as a business. It is a clear cash grab, and is frankly pretty disrespectful to the audience. It feels like they just couldn’t help themselves. “Never miss an opportunity to plug our own shit, right guys?” Disregard the fact that it is entirely unsuitable as a lead in to Coco, disregard the fact that it’s meandering and awful; just focus on poorly executed fanservice and marketing.
Sitting through Olaf’s Frozen Adventure I began to wonder if this was somehow a Greek Godesque punishment, and I feared that it might never actually end. Mercifully, after what felt like years, it did though. That is really the best thing I can say for it aside from the cloth physics. Eventually, it ends.