I guess we can take it as a sign of more than having arrived when you can see the way your vision of something has been so adopted and co-opted by the competition that you're left struggling to compete with various versions of yourself.
Pixar, which fundamentally changed the animated film game back in 1995 with Toy Story, has no apologies to make, as its films have consistently been at least watchable at worst, and absolutely enthralling when at the peak of their game, with a few exceptions involving talking motor vehicles.
86 Cast: (voices of) Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Gabriel Iglesias, Ana Ofelia Murguia, Edward James Olmos
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Rating: PG, for thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
Still, their latest offering, about a young Mexican boy who wants very badly to break his family's strict music ban -- enacted when a long-distant relative left his wife and daughter to pursue the life of a musician -- and in the process of breaking from them, ends up on an adventure with his dead relatives on Dia de los Muertos. As bright and colorful as it is, Coco feels more than a bit cut-and-pasted from previous Pixar efforts.It's not enough that much of Pixar's competition steals its formulas, it's as if the company is left having to pillage itself.
The boy, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), is a sweet-faced cherub, and a favorite of his great-great-grandmother, Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), an ancient woman with few remaining teeth, who still speaks sadly of her father's having left the family so many generations ago. Miguel lives with a large brood in a small, mostly happy village in Mexico. The family business, begun when his great-great-grandfather lit out of town, forcing Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach), his great-great-grandmother, to find a way to make a living, is shoe-making, a craft the boy, smitten as he is by late local legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), "the greatest musician in the world," has absolutely no interest in.
With tensions building around his wanting to attend a talent show to prove his skill on the guitar ("it's not just in me," the boy intones, "it is me!"), Miguel lights out for the sacred mausoleum of De la Cruz in the local graveyard in order to borrow Ernesto's guitar, still mounted on the wall in homage, which he intends to play on stage. Instead, having snagged the instrument, he is suddenly transformed into the living dead, able to see all the skeletons of everyone's ancestors flitting about the village, including his own ancient relatives, who take him over a bridge of orange flowers into the sprawling, colorfully vertical city of the dead. Now believing himself to be Ernesto's great-great-grandson, Miguel tries to track him down in order to receive his blessing and return to the living world finally free to pursue his true passion.
Along the way, he befriends a hapless skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), himself a former musician, and agrees to take a photo of him back to the world of the living in order for his relatives to remember him, and in so doing, allow him to visit them over the flower-blossom bridge on this special day.
So, roughly in order, we have borrowed conflicts from several other Pixar films: the wanting to pursue something badly outside the family business from Ratatouille; the alternate world of spirits, and spirit animals, all attached to a peculiar hierarchy (for reasons unspecified, the dead still all have jobs, some of which are horribly pedestrian) from Monsters Inc.; and, of course, the idea of memory acting as an emotional talisman from Inside Out. The film, with its distinctive Hispanic ambience -- the characters speak a kind of low-key, pigeon Spanish, which is to say, they sneak in a few key words among the English -- has its own vibe, but the story seems directly cut out from previous efforts, right down to the series of plot twists near the end that seemingly throws everything out of whack before settling back down into a more standard happy ending.
There are some truly winning elements -- not the least of which, the attention and care paid to Miguel's guitar playing (his fingers are forming actual, real chords that correspond, at least vaguely, with the music he's performing, a basic-sounding thing that most films absolutely can't be bothered with) -- and the colorful vibrancy of the imagery, especially in the City of the Dead, has a kind of continual effect of enhancement, much the way the actual Mexico, in its gorgeous primary-color wonder, can bring an element of fairy tale to everyday living. There's an ongoing piece involving Miguel's spirit-animals, which is a clever way to bring in the requisite sidekicks, and the film, as many Pixar offerings before it, throws enough twists and turns in its plot so as to leave you feeling as if you've gotten your money's worth by the end.
It also has the requisite emotional pull, to go along with a bright soundtrack put together by Michael Giacchino, yet, because of its reliance on previously winning formulas it still feels like minor Pixar, along similar lines to The Good Dinosaur, where they take pre-existing forms and tweak the formula just enough to make it seem like something as yet unexplored. It shouldn't be undersold, of course, that this is Pixar's first Hispanic-theme offering, which is a very welcome enriching of their animated universe -- the more cynical view might be to suggest they saw a huge market as yet untapped by their films, but progress is progress, no matter the actual impetus -- one just wishes it didn't feel quite so formulaic in its final presentation.
MovieStyle on 11/24/2017
Print Headline: Coco just so-so: Pixar taps Hispanic market with lesser effort, but progress is progress