Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Coco

Here it is!  Fishing in the Discount Bin!  I watch a movie and blog about.  If you've been around for the seven years or so I've been doing it, then you know the drill.  Today I'm doing Coco.  Actually, I watched it and wrote this on March 4, 2018, because I tend to work a few months ahead.

At the start of this decade, Disney held a massive press conference to lay out some of their tentpoles for the '10s.  Over on the Pixar side, they announced three "untitled" films.  They were Untitled Pixar Films About the Human Mind (which eventually became Inside Out), Untitled Pixar Film About Dinosaurs (which became The Good Dinosaur,) and Untitled Pixar Film About Dia de Muertos, which we were told would draw upon the rich traditions and heritage of Mexico's Day of the Dead festival. 

Well, time went on, Pixar announced more sequels like Finding Dory and Cars 3, and news about Untitled Pixar Film About Dia de Muertos starting become scant.  When a similar animated film called The Book of Life came out in 2014, many felt that UPFADDM went the way of Newt.  (Newt was a Pixar film also announced at that press conference, officially scrapped for being too similar to Rio.)  But, a couple years ago, the project was announced to be very much still in development, now with the title Coco

(Actually, the title was going to be Dia de Muertos, but when Disney tried to copyright that title, they were raked across the coals for attempting to buy an entire holiday.  Hence the new name Coco.) 

Then, when the first trailers came out, Disney was once again raked across the coals, with many claiming that Coco was a ripoff of The Book of Life.  I've yet to see The Book of Life, although it's high on my Netflix list, but from those who've seen both, they say that the two are very different films.  While they both draw their inspiration from Dia de Muertos, the similarity ends there.  As one podcast I listen to put it, "It's like saying National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation is a ripoff of Miracle on 34th Street.  They're both about Christmas...and that's where it ends."  And, for what it's worth, Coco's director Lee Unkrich and The Book of Life's director Jorge R. Gutierrez were constantly praising each other's film and giving each other high fives on Twitter.  So, just a manufactured controversy. 

Luckily, when Coco hit theatres, I was burning off some vacation time, and I got to see it at a matinee on opening day.  It was kind of hilarious.  In its theatrical release, the Frozen Christmas special Olaf's Frozen Adventure ran before it.  At the end of the special, a special featurette featuring Unkrich, co-director Adrian Molina, and producer Darla Anderson came on imploring people to stick around for Coco now that they've seen the latest Frozen product.  Because Anna and Elsa haven't been relegated to just another Disney princess yet, I'm sure the Disney bosses though Olaf's Frozen Adventure was going to be the bigger the draw, and that people were going to leave after seeing it.  Little did they know that, within days of its release, the public widely complained that they hated Olaf's Frozen Adventure, and that they were coming to see Coco

Our young hero is Miguel.  Miguel dreams of being a musician and has taught himself guitar.  Only one problem.  Generations ago, Miguel's great great grandfather walked out on his family, with dreams of becoming a famous musician.  In retaliation, Miguel's family has banned music -- a ban strictly enforced to this very day by Miguel's grandmother.  But, in secret, Miguel has fallen in love with the works of Ernesto de la Cruz, one of the greatest singers in Mexico until he tragically died in an onstage accident in the 1940s. 

As the family gets ready for Dia de Muertos, Miguel discovers an old picture of his great great grandfather.  While the face is torn away, the figure is holding Ernesto de la Cruz's distinctive guitar.  Couple with the fact that Miguel's home town is Ernesto's hometown, and this leads Miguel to believe that Ernesto is his great great grandfather.  Inspired by this, Miguel enters his town's Dia de Muertos music contest.  But his grandmother discovered Miguel's secret and smashed Miguel's guitar.  Desperate for a guitar, Miguel breaks into Ernesto's tomb and steals Ernesto's guitar.  And now the plot kicks into high gear.

Doing this curses Miguel, and he's sent to the Land of the Dead, where he meets his deceased relatives...including his great, great grandmother.  Sending Miguel home is easy enough.  He just needs the blessing of one of his deceased relatives.  But, when his great great grandmother and the rest of the family say they'll only give Miguel their blessing with the condition that Miguel give up his dreams of being a musician.  Of course, Miguel says screw  you, and heads off into the Land of the Dead to find the only relative he knows will give him a blessing and encourage him to continue music as a career...his great, great grandfather, Ernesto de la Cruz. 

And so Miguel is on his quest through the land of the dead.  His companion is Hector.  Hector is desperate to get home to the Land of the Living on Dia de Muertos to see his daughter again, but no one in the Land of the Living has put up his picture.  And with the people who remember Hector starting to die off, there's very few people who remember him.  As they demonstrate when they go to one of Hector's friends to borrow a guitar, when you are completely forgotten by the living, well, you die again.  So, Miguel and Hector strike a deal.  Hector will help Miguel get to Ernesto, and Miguel will hang up Hector's photo when he gets home so Hector can visit his daughter.  Easy peasy. 

I've probably seen far too many of these films and know the formula a little too much, because as soon as that deal was struck, I started thinking, "Let me guess.  The big twist is that Ernesto will actually be a villain, and Hector is really Miguel's great great grandfather."  Yup.  That's exactly how it plays out. 

As we see at the start of the third act, Hector was originally Ernesto's partner, and the author of many of their hit songs.  Life on the road wasn't for Hector, and he started growing homesick, so he decided to quit the duo and head home.  Ernesto, however, not wanting to be deprived of all those hit songs, murdered Hector and stole his songbook.  Hector and Miguel finally discover their family connection when Hector reveals the name of his daughter, Coco, which is also the name of Miguel's great grandmother, and that Ernesto's signature hit Remember Me was actually a lullaby that Hector wrote for Coco. 

And that's what leads to our tear-jerking finale.  With Hector's time running out, Hector and his ex-wife -- Miguel's great great grandmother -- reconcile long enough to get Miguel home and deliver some comeuppance to Ernesto in the Land of the Dead.  With Hector's time running short, and Miguel now back in the Land of the Living, Miguel runs home, grabs a guitar, and heads to see his great grandmother Coco.  She's been portrayed as Alzheimer's ridden and near catatonic for most of the film.  Miguel urges her to remember her father, and tearfully sings Remember Me to his great grandmother.  This brings her back to life and lucidity, as she begins joyously sharing stories of her father, and showing all the letters that her father sent her when he was on the road.  Turns out Coco also hid a photo of her father from her mother all those years ago.  So with a picture to hang and Hector's memory alive, Hector's survival is assured.  And Ernesto gets his comeuppance in the Land of the Living as well, as most of Hector's letters to Coco include rough drafts of Ernesto's hit songs, ensuring that Hector finally gets his long overdue songwriting credits. 

I'm writing this the day of the Oscars, so I'm hoping that Remember Me does go home with the Oscar for Best Original Song.  The way it's woven into the fabric of the film is beautiful, from when we first hear it as an overproduced showtune to its final performance as a simple lullaby...it's just a beautiful song.  I'm fairly certain it'll go home with the Oscar for Best Animated Film, because Pixar is an Oscar favourite, and this is a return to form for Pixar.

Coco is lots of fun with lots of heart.  Check it out.

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