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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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