Coco is a heart warming tale of that encourages you so many thoughts about the themes presented. Perhaps though the most touching and universal one is that of family. How a part of you is made up of someone who left this world a long time ago. There’s a profound mystery about that and also something very humbling and touching. Coco grants the opportunity to see such people and to see how you measure up to each other. Strangers who are undeniably immediately familiar because well they’re family. Pixar may not hit it out of the park every time like the old days but their leading batting average remains assured with releases like this.
We meet a boy named Miguel who is part of a loving family of shoemakers. Many years ago the family got into shoemaking when an ancestor Imelda Rivera was abandoned by her husband to pursue a career in music. Imelda needing to support her child Coco started the business and never looked back banning anybody in the family from taking an interest in music. Now Coco is elderly and her grandson Miguel hides up in his attic with a home made guitar and practices playing inspired by the legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz. Without going into specifics Miguel during the day of the dead celebrations find himself on the other side in the land of the dead where he attempts to meet his idol Ernesto de la Cruz. Miguel has a song in his heart, a talent that must be set free from a family that needs to understand that. Yet he too must understand where this fear of music comes from, that nothing can ever be as valuable as your family’s love.
Pixar have created another visually stunning world, moving scenes of emotions we can all relate to, sly sight gags that poke fun at tropes and a particularly catchy theme song that grows on you slowly. The cast is first rate including Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael Carcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguia and Edward James Olmos. As Miguel navigates the land of the dead the middle sags a bit but the film comes home strong. I’ve seen the Day of the Dead celebrations referenced in the pop culture I grew up with but never took the time to learn what it was about. I enjoyed a mainstream release that showed such a sweet explanation of it. Being shown something new and interesting in film was very enjoyable. It’s quite a thoughtful moving tradition about letting the dead by remembered by your family and let them be in your lives one day of the year and in your hearts the rest of it.
Finding Dory arrives in a summer of underperforming sequels, 13 years after the beloved original Finding Nemo. Animated films go through years of production but Dory comes out as Pixar’s CCO John Lasseter announces the studio will add no further no sequels to their slate and produce more original content. If it is like The Good Dinosaur that might not help but if it is like Inside Out… Since being re-purchased by Disney, Pixar has produced more films of less quality it seems and so Finding Dory arrives with a lot to prove perhaps unfairly.
Such concerns don’t account for the character of Dory (voiced by the talented Ellen DeGeneres) who is so damn lovable she buys the sequel of a lot of goodwill. For those who may not remember before Ellen became the next Oprah, DeGeneres in 2003 was a failed sitcom star most famous for being a good comedian and the girlfriend of Anne Heche once upon a time. Although it has to be said her hosting of the 53rd Emmy Awards (the first major American show business awards show following September 11, 2001) remains one of the best hosting performances of all time.
Playing Dory was a big gig for her and the beginning of something new in terms of her career. A decade on and DeGeneres returns to the role as if she never left. A fascinating scene-stealing co-lead in the last film, giving Dory her origins and backstory only enhances the character. A throwaway line from ‘Nemo “I’m looking for my family-I think.” is elaborated upon here and creates more heartache and nuance regarding her memory loss. She starts to remember a father Charlie (Eugene Levy) and mother Jenny (Diane Keaton) who loved her and sets off on an adventure to find them (the inverse of the first film’s quest for a parent to find their child).
Some of these flashbacks become more and more heartrending as we see a super cute young Dory remember two parents who wanted her to live a full life and be positive but secretly had their own fears and doubts. People with a disability and their parents will find these scenes particularly resonate. A sequence that reveals the significance of pebbles and sees a reunion of sorts shouldn’t leave a dry eye in the house. It’s the film’s heart and proves Pixar still has what it takes to hold the audience in the palm of their hand.
Yet like all sequels Finding Dory can’t quite measure up to the original. Some characters return from the original only to have less impact than they did the first time around. Two wise decisions are made by the filmmakers but don’t always bear fruit. First while initially setting off together Marlin and Nemo are separated from Dory. This allows us to have a story with Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) but their story is not as interesting as Marlin & Dory’s or Nemo & Gill’s was and Marlin hurting Dory’s feelings disappoints after the last film’s events. Faring better is Dory’s story where she goes through a Marine Park facility assisted by local octopus Hank (Ed O’Neil) who is even grouchier than Marlin. Secondly going through the park allows for a new environment and the fish navigate land in some inventive ways as opposed to sticking to the open ocean again. Yet the open ocean was so beautiful in the previous film and as a result this sequel is less spectacular as a result. Although the finale seems rather grand in scale.
It seems disingenuous to compare any film to Finding Nemo let alone its sequel which is rather good. Remember that scene though in ‘Nemo where Marlin and Dory went into the deep ocean and the screen went completely blank. I went and saw Finding Nemo with an old high school friend called Rachel who was always good at school and is now an academic. The cinema went completely dark as the screen went blank and silent. Then Marlin was muttering away and Dory called out “Who’s there?! Are you my conscience?” When Rachel really loses it she completely convulses. We both laughed so hard that night, I’ve never forgotten it. Yeah… I don’t remember laughing that hard this time around.