THIS FILM IS RECOMMENDED.
IN BRIEF: A visually stunning film with an unfortunately weak story that needs constant resuscitation (and a few rewrites) to breathe some life into it.
SYNOPSIS: A young boy must come to terms with Death in order to celebrate life.
JIM'S REVIEW: Bright colors dazzle. Characters morph into skeletal figures. Life becomes a struggle with Death. These very macabre settings celebrate the Day of the Dead in this off- kilter animated children's film that is big on visual splash but a tad weak in storytelling and charm. Welcome to the world of Coco.
￼As with most animated films these days, the story rarely matches the visual flair. And, in this case, the story and plot never quite makes logical sense: Miguel, the young hero in the story, wants to be a musician but is not allowed to utter a single note due to a family tradition of banning music from their household. It seems that his great great grandmother, the title character named Coco, had a mother who was deserted by her musician father who put fame and fortune ahead of family. Yet Miguel has the need to sing out, inspired by his late great idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. This leads him unexpectedly to visit the Land of the Dead. Convoluted? Wait...and he must get back to the Land of the Living by sunrise if he wants to return to his family ever again. Huh? Like I said, if I have problems following the story, younger children will be lost as well.
￼There is also so much exposition in this film, too much in fact, in order to set-up the complicated plot structure. Some rewrites by the director Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich would have certainly helped to define the characters and their actions. Our small hero, Miguel, is cute and endearing, but not very appealing with his big doe eyes and Pillsbury dough boy generic face. He resembles a good-looking Cabbage Patch kid. Coco is essentially a minor major character, with about as much screen-time as Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love, but she makes a lasting impression in a touching closing scene which is Pixar's forte. Actually Hector, Miguel's sidekick in this Dead Man's Land, provides more interesting and the animators have some fun delivering some needed humor with his movable skeletal parts. Voice-over work is fine with Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Benjamin Bratt as standouts.
￼Mr. Molina and Lee Unkrich co-directed this movie and they keep the action moving along at a nice pace while sacrificing character development for action. The songs aren't very memorable either, although the main ditty, Remember Me, is at least hummable. So what makes the film worth your time and money? It's purely the spectacle of state-of-the-art animation that is a remarkable step forward in animation.
￼Yes, it is the visual artistry on display which elevates this tale. Colors shimmer unlike most animated films. A note-worthy phosphorous glow throughout the film's many sequences gives the film its distinctive visual quality. The intensity of light adds a unique richness to the backgrounds which upstages most of the underwritten characters and unfocused plot. There are also lovely textures with the wooden carved faces of the skeleton figures, detailed animal spirits that glisten, and a transfixing luminescent ethereal world that adds to the mystique of the overall production.
￼The color palette is stunning state-o-the-art animation. Vivid in its saturation point and rendered in amazing exactness. Coco is unadulterated eye candy. Oranges contrast against azure backgrounds...deep purples blend into shades of crimson. It's a glorious mix of hues that would beguile any moviegoer.
￼But originality and imagination come to an abrupt stop with the film's dull screenplay. This is conventional storytelling, not worthy the artistry that surrounds it. (2014's The Book of Life followed a similar subject, with weaker results, and although the images in Coco are truly remarkable, the plot is not.) There is a nifty twist midway that almost explains some of the illogical loose strands of the plot, but it comes a bit late.
￼The doltish script never reaches the same level of excellence as the masterful images on screen. And let's face it, the subject of death is a real downer, especially in a children's film that has very few comedic moments to lighten its heavy subject. However, kudos to the film's multicultural message, its all-inclusive Latin American actors doing voice-over work, and to Pixar Studios for tackling such an adult theme while staying true to the story's Mexican heritage.
￼Coco is a solid achievement, a good film that is dressed to the tens. But all of the visual trickery can't hide its empty-headed plot.