Tag Archives: disney animation

“Coco” is gorgeous, heartwarming

Tackling a subject like death in a children’s film is a tough balancing act. You can’t be too light or else risk seeming disingenuous. Too serious however and the film can become a morbid mess. Pixar has done a good job of straddling that line in films such as “Toy Story 2” and “Up” and they continue that streak with “Coco.” Their success lies in finding the silver lining in finite life: joy in family and experience over despair and anguish.

Directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, “Coco” tells the story of Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy kept from playing music by an old family superstition. When he is accidentally transported to the land of the dead on Dia de los Muertos, he must find his great-great-grandfather and gain his blessing to return before he becomes a spirit as well. He recruits Hector (voice of Gael Garcia Bernal), a bumbling castaway, to aid him in his quest.

The film is a beautifully told, if ultimately somewhat familiar, tale. The land of the dead may be one of the most impressive animated environments ever created, full of bright colors, depth and brilliant hues. The imagination behind the construction of the dead characters and the spirit creatures is superb. The film plays out like an old fable told from generation to generation, timeless as it confronts childhood acceptance, manifest destiny and the concept of eternal familial love.

The music is respectable, if not exactly memorable, but it’s the emotions they represent that imbue them with cinematic power. When Miguel sings, it’s a reflection of his desire to live, an oxymoron considering he’s in the land of the dead.

A weak point however is the film’s second act twist. Pixar has always done a good job of building up their films with complex characters and themes only sometimes to feature stereotypical hollow villains. In “Up”, there is Charles Muntz. In “Brave”, there’s Mor’du. In “Wall-E”, there’s Otto. They do sometimes make a complicated antagonist such as Ego in “Ratatouille” or Lotso in “Toy Story 3”, but the twist in “Coco”, and the villain that permeates through the final act of the film, diminishes an otherwise strong story with a higher degree of schmaltz than is necessary.

But “Coco” is an otherwise solid film, fun and ultimately joyous with plenty to love and remember.

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‘Zootopia’ a deeper Disney flick

The theme of just about every Disney movie is “follow your dreams.” It’s sweet, timeless and, by now, pretty boring. So it is great that with “Zootopia”, the filmmakers haven’t abandoned that concept but added a much-needed dose of reality and racial diversity into the equation.

“Zootopia” tells the story of Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), a young bunny who dreams of being a police officer in the sprawling city of Zootopia, a place where predator and prey live together in peace. There has never been a bunny cop before, and she faces all sorts of prejudice for being perceived as less than bigger animals. As she tries to prove herself, she meets a sly fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a con artist she enlists to help her get to the bottom of a case of disappearing predator animals.

The story takes a film noir approach (with a child-appropriate tone) towards the investigation and examines some poignant race-relation issues in the world today. The discrimination of predator to prey and prey to predator imbues the story with a deeper level of meaning than that of a standard Disney film. The characters must work through their own prejudices of the world to gain true understanding.

Real time and energy went into making the film not only fun and entertaining, but also different and deeper. It’s great to see an animated film, especially from Disney, tackle some prominent modern-day issues.

“Zootopia” is one of the better films of the modern Disney era. It is fun, insightful, heartfelt and memorable.

‘Moana’ beautiful, fun

Boasting beautiful animation, an engaging (if familiar) story and strong musical numbers, Disney’s Moana is an enjoyable cinematic experience.

Moana (voice of Auli’i Cravalho) is destined to lead her Polynesian island community, but the island’s resources are drying up. The sea calls to Moana, who must embark on a quest to return the heart of the goddess Te Whiti before the darkness overwhelms her home. She enlists the help of the demigod, Maui (voice of Dwayne Johnson).

Directed by the duo of Ron Clements and John Musker (past credits include Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Princess and the Frog among others), the film features several of the traditional Disney tropes: a princess, the bumbling sidekick, the quest, nature as a guide, the biased father-figure, the helpful grandmother. But while the story is rather so-so in terms of creativity, the songs and the visuals are great. The water in particular looks terrific and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tunes are sure to stick in your head for better or worse long afterwards.

The film does an excellent job of really utilizing its location to tell its story. You can practically smell the sea-breeze off the screen. It is to Musker and Clement’s credit that they imbue the film with such energy and really bring Polynesian culture to life.

When given the choice between the familiar told well or the unfamiliar told poorly, telling stories smartly always wins. While Moana is nothing that new, it is fun, it is enjoyable, and it is another strong Disney entry in its recent revival (started not-so-coincidentally when John Lasseter took over as head of Disney animation).