I wish the COCO movie suggested that all was now well with Pixar, but warning signs are, if anything, multiplying. The studio’s next two films will be sequels, The COCO and an utterly heretical “franchise reboot,” Toy Story 4. With Coco, even the customary delight of a Pixar short before the movie is missing . Which whatever its quality suggests that the studio is being ever-more subsumed into its Disney parent. And the interlocking news stories . That Pixar guru John Lasseter is going on leave due to alleged inappropriate behavior . That Rashida Jones left Toy Story 4 over issues of diversity are depressing on almost every level imaginable.As someone who has written at some length about the decline of Pixar Studios since its acquisition by Disney . I am especially please to be prove wrong, even if only intermittently . The studio’s latest release, Coco, is one such occasion.
Though Pixar has never acknowledged as much publicly . Its cinematic philosophy has shifted notably . Where the studio once aspired to excellence with every single picture . Pixar President Ed Catmull wrote an entire book expressing this ideal, Creativity Inc.—it now seems content to roll out a few profitable, hyper-merchandise-friendly sequels for every genuinely original feature it unveils.
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But if Finding Dory and Cars 3 are the price we must pay for a film such as Coco . Pixar’s latest is up there with Inside Out among the studio’s best features in years—less complex than Pete Docter’s 2015 COCO film, but perhaps a tad more emotionally resonant.
Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy in Mexico whose greatest desire in life is to be a musician like his idol . The mid-century legend Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Alas, Miguel’s great-great-grandmother was abandone by her musician husband . The Rivera family has enforced an iron-clad policy against music ever since. Instead, each subsequent generation has gone into the family business of making shoes.
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Befitting its subject, this is the most musical feature yet produced by Pixar, with songs co-written by Robert Lopez, of The Book of Mormon, Avenue Q, and Frozenfame. There are clever pop-cultural nuggets scattered throughout: a Mac Plus that is condemned as a “devil box” and smash with a shoe; a gatehouse between the lands of the living and the dead that bears a distinct resemblance to the entrance to Disneyland; a hilariously avant-garde stage show put on by a deceased Frida Kahlo.