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The Lost Art of Family Films (a no-spoilers Coco movie review)

I really thought the trailer for Coco looked interesting, and I have really been looking forward to seeing it for a while. You might notice that I don’t review many family films (in fact, this is probably the first one I’ve reviewed here). I actually really like family films. I just don’t see them in theaters too often. Most of the reason I don’t see them in theaters is because I don’t have children and I don’t really want to be the creepy middle-aged dude sitting alone in the back of a movie theater with a whole bunch of little kids and a bunch or parents worrying about me kidnapping them. Today I was lucky enough to be accompanied by my lovely six-year-old niece, who was wonderful enough to sit next to me and make me look not creepy.

But there’s another reason I don’t normally go to see them, as well. They don’t so much make family movies anymore! Not really. Sure, they make kids movies… Mostly they take something that some 50-year-old executive saw was maybe hot for two seconds three years ago and greenlit a script based on that intellectual property thinking they’d get a lot of good toy tie ins only by the time the movie comes out no one really cares anymore, but parents have to go anyway, because what the fuck else are they going to do… that’s what movies there are. And then they throw a bunch of double entendre adult jokes and puns in so that whichever parent drew the short straw and has to sit through some talking cars (or toys, or pets, or emojis, or garden gnomes) making fart jokes while their spouse gets to stay at home and get drunk and fuck the mailman, can at least amuse themselves for 90-120 minutes trying to pick out the dirty jokes that got slipped in. In fact, before this film there was a trailer for Sherlock Gnomes, the sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet. The whole trailer was built around trying to make one really stupid joke. See, there’s these garden gnomes that come to life and talk when no one is looking, because Toy Story made a lot of money back in 1995 and every other studio is going to milk that concept til it’s dry. Anyway, there’s a mystery going on (the details of which are clearly unimportant) and so the gnomes call on their great gnome detective, Sherlock Gnomes. Then “for reasons” Sherlock decides that he has to lead all the gnomes away from the garden on a boat. But then they get to where the boat is supposed to be, it’s not there. Which means that one of the other gnomes gets to say “No ship, Sherlock!”

[crickets]

Yep. That’s what passes for a children’s movie. I will not be reviewing that when it comes out. (Unless someone wants to pay me… seriously, someone pay me. I can totally be bought).

But back when I was a kid, they actually used to make “family films.” That is to say that there were movies that weren’t really “for kids.” They weren’t slapsticky nonsense, overly didactic learning or religious edutainment, or dumb downed PCed fairy tales… sure those all existed too. And they’re fine. But there was also a subset of movies that were simply engaging stories that *happened* to not be too over the top in violence or language or sex that you could slap a PG rating on it and people of all ages might be able to enjoy it. That is, it wasn’t a KID movie. It was a FAMILY movie. They don’t do that as much anymore. Well, Coco was one of them.

What made this movie work was that it mostly just forgot that it was trying to target children. It forgot that it was a cartoon. It was just a movie. It concerned itself with telling its story first — an engaging ghost adventure story. It didn’t have to be a cartoon. The film would have been just as engaging if it had been live action… and just as family appropriate. Sure, no one would have gone to see it. Because people look at the media first and cartoon == kids. But it didn’t have to be that way. And yet, it’s great that it is. The visuals of the film are great. It’s colorful. It’s fun. It’s very cinematic. It doesn’t come across as a cartoon, however. The world is engaging enough that it is easy to get lost in the story and just enjoy what is going on. And it doesn’t matter how old you are. I was thoroughly invested, and I looked to my side and watched my niece a couple of times, and so was she, as was my brother-in-law a couple seats over. The whole thing just works, without talking down to anyone or doing anything that is over someone’s head.

This is very much highlighted by not only the trailers I mentioned, but also because the film is packaged with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, a 21 minute short designed simply to keep the characters of Frozein your mind because really, they want to keep the hype going for when they finish the sequel. I love Frozen, but this short, paired with the feature. really highlighted that it’s definitely a KID’s movie. It was amusing, but wow is it dumb.

If there is any criticism of it that I have it’s that there are some pacing issues. There is a mystery, that I solved about two minutes after it was introduced, and yet had to wait for the entire film to complete so that the characters could catch up. The story could have easily been expanded so that it was more complex, but then the kids would have been lost. So the key was making the characters interesting enough so that the audience cared about them and wanted them to solve the mystery even though they were maybe a little slow on the uptake. It also would have made the movie too long. Since it wants to be a movie for the family, it had to be short enough for kid attention spans. At 1:45 plus the 20 minute Olaf short before hand, and all the trailers, my niece even said she was tired and ready for a nap when the whole thing was over.

That’s not to say that it’s simple. It just isn’t super complex. As I said, the characters are interesting. The story is heartwarming, if formulaic and slightly melodramatic. It has funny scenes while still having an emotional hook and it is fairly respectful (again, if simplistic) to the cultural aspects of Dias de los Muertos, So all in all, it is worth seeing. Especially if you are looking for something to watch with kids. Certainly not my favorite of the Disney or Pixar films, but quite refreshing to see them doing something different from their usual IP driven releases.

★★★⅓☆+?(3.33 out of 5 stars, plus a sugar skull)

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21 comments for “The Lost Art of Family Films (a no-spoilers Coco movie review)

  1. avatar
    November 24, 2017 at 3:49 pm

    @ [ Semar Mesem movie stream ➤➤ click to watch the latest movies, JUSTICE * LEAGUE, WONDER, THOR RAGNAROK, STAR WARS, JUMANJI and many more.

  2. avatar
    November 24, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    I thought it looked like a rip off of The Book of Life http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2262227/

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 4:00 pm

      I actually haven’t seen it. But another of my favorite reviewers addresses that criticism and says it’s not.

      https://youtu.be/wiXhcwpMU1I

      So like, the fact that it’s the same theme doesn’t make it anymore the same than all the movies focused on Christmas.

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      Basically, prepare for Dia De Los movies to become basic. #youllshootyoureyeout
      #everytimeabellrings
      #thesantaclause

    • avatar
      November 26, 2017 at 7:51 am

      TIRED: Coco is ripping off Book of Life
      WIRED: All movies should take place in the land of the dead.

  3. avatar
    November 24, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    What movies came out when you were a kid that you would consider “family movies” as opposed to the current trend of “dumb kid movies?” I defiantly agree there are many kid films that are just god awful. But I am always hesitant to pull the “when I was your age (insert what was better and how things are now awful)” card. As someone who watches way to many kid friendly movies I know there is just a plethora of crap, but sometimes good things sneak past the execs who just wanted to make money, “Lego Movie” being one truly surprising example. (I was dragged kicking and screaming too it by the kids but ended up really enjoying it.)

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 4:45 pm

      Hah. I actually didn’t mean it like that. And in fact I love the Lego movie even though it is without a doubt a “kid’s movie” with adult content.

      What I actually mean is that the film industry changed. There’s more content which means more specialized content. There’s a much bigger home distribution channel than when I was a kid which means there’s more need to make content that can be rewatched alone on dvd/streaming whatever. You want something kids can sing along with.

      There’s also a different context of films with PG-13 being the primary content rating for new releases. PG-13 didn’t exist til I was 10. And it wasn’t really common until I was old enough for it not to matter.

      So there were plenty of BAD family films when I was a kid, but if you think of the 80s nostalgia kick we’re on today, the stuff being referenced a lot is the family fare from when i (and the people producing films) was that age.

      Some of the most classic GOOD examples (often live action): ET, Goonies, Ghoulies, karate kid, princess bride, dark crystal, labyrinth, willow, back to the future, never ending story

      And if you go older: apple dumpling gang, black hole, bedknobs and broomsticks, Mary poppins, wizard of oz… and if you want to look at Disney cartoons even stuff like Bambi and Fantasia.

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      That makes a lot of sense. If I recall I was part of the first generation that had home video as the standard. And with all movies being released looking to be purchased (or rented) for home viewing. Someone older could correct me but I believe even though home videocassettes existed in 1976 they didn’t become regularly used until later.

      Out of curiosity how would you place the Disney renaissance movies? Good kids content/good family content/not good either?

      I am obviously an adult who greatly appreciates kid focused movies (perhaps because I look like I’m 10?) so I am trying to figure out the distinction.

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      It’s hard to say. I mean, I don’t think this is a strict categorization fo one or the other. But for the most part the Disney renaissance/Princess films, I feel like are specifically TARGETED at kids rather than families. I adore Little Mermaid, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast, but they certainly feel like their intended to be watched by children and it’s ok if adults like them too.

      As opposed to say Coco or Up which could be more films for the family (even though they were marketed towards children)

      Or a better way to look at it. I feel like… lets say Wizard of Oz, Princess Bride or Dark Crystal were movies that a pair of 20-somethings to 60-somethings might just go to on a date night without kids. No one would have even blinked. To be more recent… maybe the Harry Potter movies are here too.

      And while you certainly MIGHT go see Frozen or the Emoji Movie on a date night… just because you’re a big Disney fan or animation fan, that’s not the expectation. It would be “weird.” People would think “uh, why aren’t you seeing Thor or Ladybird or something?”

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 7:05 pm

      Helena Nichols correct on timing of home videotapes. Started appearing widely in homes in the 80s. I think we got ours around ’83. Certainly had it to record Live Aid in ’85 (which I
      just recently came across).

    • avatar
      November 25, 2017 at 3:07 am

      ET really is the poster child for this genre

  4. avatar
    November 24, 2017 at 5:03 pm

    With this one I was confused by the release date. It’s a day of the dead movie, why didn’t they release it on that holiday, not Thanksgiving. I think that’s weird.

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 6:12 pm

      Good question. And I don’t know. But I expect it was because they wanted a clear weekend. It didn’t HAVE to be on the actual holiday weekend since MOST Americans don’t celebrate it. And I expect that the studios probably figured any bump they might get by people wanting to see it on 10/31-11/2 would have been negated by the competition. That weekend had Thor: Ragnarok and Bad Mom’s Christmas opening, plus dealing with all the Halloween horror stuff (IT was still in a couple thousand screens, as was Boo 2, and Jigsaw had just opened)

      This weekend on the other hand, the biggest planned competition is Thor in like it’s 3rd week. Justice League is in it’s second, but history tells them that DCEU movies are going to critical failures with massive drop-offs in the second week even if they have huge debuts.

      In actuality, JL debuted with disappointing numbers, and the bigger threat is probably Wonder, but no one knew that was going to be the hit that it is (and it still probably can’t compete with this).

      Also, if you’re going to do a family film it helps to drop it on 3-day weekend. And even better for a 4-day where people are doing family oriented stuff.

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 6:52 pm

      It actually opened in Mexico on Oct. 27. And in addition to the (anticipated) movie competition, the weekend around Halloween also has lots of other “family” activities, especially with apparent proliferation of “Trunk or Treat” in many communities. Others noted the advantages to releasing a family film over a 4 day weekend.

      https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.bloomberg.com/amp/news/articles/2017-11-08/-coco-strikes-a-chord-in-mexico-bodes-well-for-film-s-u-s-run

    • avatar
      November 24, 2017 at 7:00 pm

      Yes. And from what I understand it has the most successful movie in pesos down there in quite a while.

  5. avatar
    November 24, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Kubo and the two strings. Seen it?

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