Film Review: “Coco”

Starring the Voice of: Anthony Gonzalez, Gail Garcia Bernal and Benjamin Bratt
Directed By: Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina
Rated: PG
Running Time: 115 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Death and life after death are incredibly tricky subjects to maneuver for filmmakers in the animated-children’s movie genre. When making a family friendly film about the passing of a loved one and what waits beyond in the afterlife, you run the risk of not only upsetting children, but also their parents for how you’ve delivered your content. To say Pixar has done it again is an understatement because they’ve seemingly handled the subject matter with ease.

Miguel Rivera (Gonazalez) is an aspiring musician, trapped in a family that has barred music from the household. The Riveras are a shoemaking family because Miguel’s great-great-grandmother started the practice as a way to prove her own independence after her husband abandoned the family to pursue his musical dreams. Hence this is why artistic pursuits in music are frowned down upon, even to the point where Miguel’s grandmother smashes Miguel’s makeshift acoustic guitar after finding it in his secret room/shrine dedicated to popular singer-songwriter, Ernesto De La Cruz (Bratt)

Despite those attempts to dismay Miguel, he develops suspicions that he’s related to his idol Ernesto and enters the Mexican singer’s enshrined tomb on Dia de Muertos (The Day of the Dead). Believing that he’s simply borrowing a long lost relative’s heirloom, Miguel steals Ernesto’s guitar. But instead he’s committing an unspoken cardinal sin that isn’t grave robbing. He’s transported to the afterlife where he meets his long deceased relatives and discovers unspoken family secrets long forgotten.

There’s a lot of moments where “Coco” could have easily coasted on spectacular visuals and charming characters, but instead Pixar does what it does best, surpass expectations and craft a unique and heartwarming vision. The animation studio also manages to package its themes of perseverance, family togetherness, forgiveness and following your dreams, all in a cohesive message that’s easily consumed for parents and kids alike. “Coco” immerses audiences in a culture and tradition that speaks universal truths.

The music, which will surely win an Oscar, by Robert Lopez keeps tempo with the animation pushing audiences into fresh colorful territory, but also bringing audiences back down to Earth during the film’s most subtle moments. The man whose done music for everything from “Frozen” to “The Book of Mormon” makes another catalogue of music that’s seemingly timeless, fitting Pixar’s effort’s to make “Coco” an instant classic, worthy of standing atop their growing catalogue of masterpieces.

“Coco” takes a while to get going, but once it does, it manages to hit every high note along the way. It may not be as clever as “Inside Out” or groundbreaking as “Wall-E,” but it finds a way to wedge itself into contention with many of Pixar’s great because of its expert use and understanding of the Mexican heritage that it uses as a plot device and backdrop. It’s a movie that not only enlightens some about a specific culture, but makes audiences feel like one of the family. And for those who’ve ever dealt with the loss of a relative, you’ll find the ending equally heartbreaking and endearing.


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Film Review: “Finding Dory”

Starring the Voice Of: Ellen DeGeneres, Albert Brooks and Hayden Rolence
Directed By: Andrew Stanton
Rated: G
Running Time: 103 minutes
Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Back in 2003, “Finding Nemo” was the crown jewel of animated movies. After 13 more years of storytelling innovation and cleverness on Pixar’s end, “Finding Nemo” isn’t quite the pinnacle of Pixar’s animation catalogue anymore. It’s known that Pixar is willing to do sequel, just as long as it’s as emotionally resonant and intellectually stimulating as the original. “Finding Dory” does both, even while treading familiar waters.

The protagonist this time around is Dory (DeGeneres), obviously. The blue surgeonfish still suffers from short-term memory loss, but one of Nemo’s (Rolence) class field trips knocks a cobweb loose in Dory’s brain. Memories of her parents come flooding back in an instant. Soon Dory’s head is swimming in a sea of longing and sorrow for her parents. The how’s and why’s of her separation from her parents are still a bit fuzzy, but those will come as the story progresses.

Marlin (Brooks) begrudgingly follows Dory on her journey. “Finding Dory” is a more compact journey. Instead of crossing the vast ocean, the trio heads to California where they wind up at the Monterey Marine Institute and get separated. Dory is snatched up and placed inside the confines of the rescue center. As she slowly makes her way around, Marlin and Nemo spend the movie playing catch-up.

There isn’t any real peril, since the humans they encounter don’t want to hurt them and the other aquatic life populating the Institute are all non-aggressive. But Pixar has always been able to do a lot with a just a little. The smaller confines of the settings give way to Dory utilizing an octopus (referred to as a septopus by Dory because one of tentacles was ripped off) named Hank (Ed O’Neil). Hank provides the out of water transportation for Dory, eliminating a lot of the unique ways that the fish could possibly be using to get around. But that’s just a small complaint in an otherwise nearly perfect film.

Ever since “Cars 2”, there’s been apprehension before every Pixar movie. Especially in a sequel that seems warrantless. But the folks behind “Finding Dory” have repackaged and rebranded what made the first one so good. The animation, as always, is a mesmerizing Kaleidoscope trip through the sea. It’s easy to get washed over by the stunning imagery and forgot about the small little tweaks here and there that continually push what the boundaries of computer animation.

DeGeneres is tasked with carrying a lot of the poignant plot points through Dory. The blue fish that was a gag in the original now provides a lot of the heart-rending story. It’s nice to see the childlike wonder of Dory turn into childlike pain that her parents are gone. The themes are either hidden, creating a greater depth of meaning, or the themes are upfront and in focus so that kids can subconsciously learn and grow in a positive way. Pixar once again finds a way to make adults and kids alike find that soft spot of their heart that brings a tear to the eye.

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Blu-ray Review “Pixar Short Films Collection: Vol. 2”

Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: Disney-Pixar
Release Date: November 13, 2012
Run Time: 75 minutes

Shorts: 4 out of 5 stars
Extras: 3.5 out of 5 stars

When it comes to Disney/Pixar, the Award-winning studio behind Toy Story 3, Up and WALL•E, they are the best when it comes to short films.  I get to the theater early for everyone of their films just to catch the shorts.  This Blu-ray release includes 12 short films, which are together for the very first time.  Obviously, this is the second volume of shorts and is a real step up from volume one.  The first volume includes the classics but these include some of my personal favorites.  If you are a fan of these shorts, then this a must purchase to get all these shorts in one place.

The following shorts included are “Your Friend the Rat” (2007). “Presto” (2008), “BURN-E” (2008), “Partly Cloudy” (2009), “Dug’s Special Mission” (2009), “George & A.J. (2009), “Day & Night” (2010), “Toy Story Toons: Hawaiian Vacation” (2011), “Cars Toons: Air Mater” (2011), “Toy Story Toons: Small Fry” (2011), “La Luna” (2011) and “Cars Toons: Time Travel Mater” (2012).

“BURN•E” is based on characters from “WALL•E”. “Dug’s Special Mission” and George & AJ” are both inspired from “Up”. “Air Mater” and “Time Travel Mater” are from “Cars Toons” featuring Mater. “Your Friend The Rat” features Remy and Emile from “Ratatouille”. The last two that are related to a franchise are  “Toy Story Toons” including “Hawaiian Vacation”, which was shown in front of “Cars 2” and “Small Fry”, which was shown in front of “The Muppets”. Original shorts included are Day & Night was shown before “Toy Story 3”. La Luna is the newest and was just shown in front of “Brave”. “Partly Cloudy” was shown before “Up”. “Presto” was shown before “WALL-E”. These areall previously on the respective Blu-ray/DVD releases. This is the first time that the shorts “George & AJ”, “Small Fry” and “Time Travel Mater” have ever been released on Blu-ray/DVD.

This release comes as a combo pack including both a Blu-ray and DVD included. There are several commentary tracks, as well as introductions for the shorts included. But the real draw for this release besides the shorts themselves are seven rarely seen student films from John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Pete Docter. These are worth the purchase of the disc alone. The student films that are included are “Nitemare”, “The Lady & The Lamp”, “Somewhere in the Arctic”, “A Story”, “Winter”, “Palm Springs” and “Next Door”. These just show where these creative geniuses have come from and how far they have come since their early days.