Run Time: 1h 45min
Disney-Pixar’s “Coco”: A Great Movie Undermined By Disney’s Growing Laziness
As a full-time college student, it’s rare that I find the time to go to the movies, but I had to make an exception when I found out that “Coco” (Disney’s animated film about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), and the importance of family in Mexican culture) was finally in theaters. On Sunday, Dec. 10 I decided to go and see “Coco” at the Marcus theater in New Berlin, Wis., but before I went I realized I was missing something: children. Disney’s target audience is children from the ages of nine to 14, so at 21 I didn’t really fit the bill (and going to see a children’s movie alone on a Sunday morning is just a bit unusual). To solve this predicament, I called a friend and asked her for permission to steal her two kids (ages nine and 11) for the morning to accompany me to the theater.
“Coco” follows the story of a young Mexican boy named Miguel who has a passion for music. But there’s a problem: his family has condemned all music since Miguel’s great great grandfather seemingly abandoned his wife and young daughter, Coco, to live the life of a traveling musician. As Miguel seeks his big musical break on Dia de los Muertos, against his family’s wishes, he finds himself trapped in the Land of the Dead after trying to borrow Ernesto de la Cruz’s (Miguel’s idol) guitar from Cruz’s tomb. The plot follows Miguel’s struggles and endeavors through the Land of the Dead with the help of his deceased family members and a special friend he finds named Hector. Like other Disney classics, “Coco” deals with problems we face in real life like acceptance, following our dreams, and the rewards of helping others along the way.
Although all three of us enjoyed the movie, it was apparent something was missing: classic Disney character development. It’s not that there wasn’t context and character development at all (I thoroughly enjoyed the inclusion of the abuela-custom of La Chancla), but that the best Disney films use music to simultaneously help propel the plot as well as solidify the main/important characters. To be sure, it was technically a Pixar film (Pixar is a subsidiary of Disney), and traditionally Pixar doesn’t do as much with music as Disney does, but with music being such a large part of the plot, I would have liked to have seen, or rather heard, more of it. The last Disney movie to have used music as a tool for character development that I can remember seeing was “Princess and the Frog” (2009), and possibly “Tangled” (2010). No, “Frozen” and “Moana” didn’t do it right either.
If you go back to your favorite Disney movies, you’ll see what I’m talking about. For example: “Princess and the Frog’s” song, “Almost There” describes Tiana’s strong work ethic, perseverance, and optimism. Accompanied by the visuals of the movie, you not only get to see Tiana as the kind of person her song delineates, but also a visual of her dreams for her restaurant (and its tribute to her departed dad). Then there’s the instrumental score which follows the classic, jazzy feel of New Orleans (where the setting of the movie is) which also helps the development of the movie. You get all of this in under two and a half minutes. That’s what I mean when I talk about using music in the classic Disney fashion. “Coco” had two memorable tunes (not including the scores and instrumental pieces): “Remember Me” and “Un Poco Loco”. “Remember Me” was an important song plot-wise but I think it could have done more by giving the Spanish lyrics precedence, with the English translation second. And although I enjoyed “Un Poco Loco”, I felt as if it didn’t add much to the plot at all.
Aside from my beef with portions of the music, “Coco” was a great movie. It dealt with the struggles we sometimes find within family relations as well as the importance of family in general, especially as it relates to Mexican culture. The visuals were incredible: the representation of the Land of the Dead had classic Disney enchantment. I loved that they used the Aztec marigold flowers (also known as Mexican marigolds or Cempasúchil) which are used in real life as a way to guide the dead back to the living as part of the Mexican tradition, as well as the ancestral photos accompanied by candles (even though the thought of “wow, that’s a fire hazard” did cross my mind at least twice during the movie). I was even more thrilled to see the Frida Kahlo character in the Land of the Dead. The plot twist at the climax of the movie took my comrades and I by surprise, and it added considerable depth to the plot.
Overall, I would recommend the movie and I enjoyed watching it. I would just like to have seen Disney do more with the music considering its importance within the plot as well as its abilities to transform a good movie into a great one.