How Coco Succeeded Where Moana Failed

Okay since it’s the last day of 2017 I want to finish the year on a high note with what little writing inspiration I have. Be warned for Coco spoilers!

So, as I’ve made it abundantly clear, I don’t like Moana. At all. Whenever I watch Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 I cry over how they’re so much better and lament on how I was hoping Moana would join their ranks of my ultimate faves. Alas, it was not meant to be.

But, I have found a new Disney movie that filled the void left by Moana. That film is Coco.

Coco Movie Poster

For this movie I kept my expectations relatively low given the controversy surrounding it. Once it came out and it got a more welcome reception I decided to see it, and man, it is so good. Probably Pixar’s second best movie (after Up) and the best animated film of 2017.

So how did Coco fill the void Moana left?

Well, my biggest problem with Moana was the fact that the titular character is…kind of a Mary Sue. She lives a charmed life on an island where everyone adores her and she’s set to be the chief, is chosen to save the world, is able to outsmart and outrun monsters, and helps not one but TWO gods…but she feels like something is wrong with her because she wants to go sailing. Oh the horror. But don’t worry we’ll have contrived moments where we’re made to doubt about her legitimacy as a navigator and the chosen one, and she’ll turn out to be exactly right in the end.

Well, it turns out that the reason why her conflict is supposed to be so major is because, as one commentator pointed out to me, in Polynesia respect for your family and elders is paramount. You’re supposed to carry on the traditions of your family, and you need to be obedient to your parents. So, okay, that would make sense for Moana to feel conflicted if that was the case. The only problem?

THE MOVIE DOESN’T ESTABLISH THIS. Like for all the praise the movie gets for honoring Polynesian culture it couldn’t be assed to explain a VERY important custom and plot point. Because we, as the audience, aren’t informed of how important family piety is in Moana’s culture, her relationship with her father and her central conflict just come across as angsty for no reason. But again, Moana turns out to be EXACTLY right in the end because lo and behold navigating was part of her culture’s tradition all along.

And this is where Coco succeeds. We understand Miguel’s plight better because we know WHY it would be a huge deal for him. He has actual talent and passion for music, which has been forbidden from his family after his great-great-grandfather left the family to pursue it. And the movie shows us how important family is in Mexican culture in an organic manner because of how significant Miguel’s family members are to him (not just the one grandma who understands him). Therefore, we understand WHY his conflict is a big issue, and how it ties in with the story and world-building.

Adding to this, the characters in Coco are MUCH more likable than in Moana. Miguel is a sweet twelve year old boy who learns throughout the movie how important family and remembering the ones before him is, and is ultimately able to use music not to pursue his own interests, but to use it to bring his family together. Hector is a sympathetic and lovable companion who genuinely cares for Miguel and his family. Imelda starts off rather stubborn and strict but learns that reconnecting with your roots and loved ones is more important than holding a ban on music. And Ernesto is a chillingly realistic villain, who can be genuinely affable but ultimately puts fame and fortune above everyone else. And of course the character of Coco herself is the heart and soul of the movie. I can get attached to these characters more because Miguel’s central conflict is better established and goes through more natural development, and Hector isn’t an asshole companion.

You’re probably wondering why I feel it is necessary to compare these specific films. Well, that’s because they’re both meant to be authentic representations of non-white/non-American cultures made accessible to a worldwide audience. And because Coco actually takes the time to establish how significant family and music are in Mexican culture and weave it into the story, I walk out of the movie feeling like I’ve actually gotten a celebration of a different culture than mine. While Moana no doubt had an impact on Polynesian audiences (and it’s important for that), I feel like it didn’t do a good job exploring important customs that crucially explain parts of the story. The fact that it takes place mostly on the open ocean can make the Polynesian setting feel tacked on for diversity points. But more than anything, I really hoped Moana would go all the way into Polynesian stories and culture, and to me, it just felt like another by-the-numbers Princess movie. I hope we can have at least one more movie set in the Pacific Islands that is able to delve deeper into the rich world of the peoples there. But until then, I’m going to settle for Coco instead.

Happy New Year! Hope to get back to you soon to write about The Incredibles 2, Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse!

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Hiatus

Hey guys, it’s been a pretty rough couple of weeks. I’ve been feeling really tired from school (which includes field work) and I’ve found myself deleting a lot of posts I had just published over not feeling proud of them. The news of John Lasseter in particular really wore me down.

I want to use this blog for what I do best: analysis. And unfortunately my analytical brain has been kind of spent.

So with that in mind, consider this blog on hiatus for awhile. I want to refuel so I can feel truly inspired to write here. I hope to be back refreshed for the new year. That might not happen until school ends (I finish in May), so be patient.

In the meantime, check out my twitter for my thoughts on the latest media news. It’s easier to write quick thoughts there than try to make a post here.

Happy Holidays and I’ll see you soon,

Laura.

 

The Failure of Olaf’s Frozen Adventure: What This Means

So I went to see Coco yesterday and I absolutely loved it. It is easily on par with Up and Toy Story 3 and proof that there’s hope for Pixar yet. There was an audience applause when the movie ended. When I get it on Blu Ray I’ll definitely be sure to write more about it (I want to see it again already) but right now I want to talk about something else: the short that preceded it, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.

This short, originally meant to air as a TV special, was suddenly placed in front of Coco, the unfortunate implication being that Disney did not have faith that a movie led by non white (and non American) people would do very well. Considering how much of a success this movie has proven to be already, beating out Justice League and becoming the highest grossing movie of all time in Mexico, it seems that this move was unnecessary.

And boy was it unnecessary because people fucking hate this short, drawing a slew of complaints from its 21 minute run time to its mediocre story and songs. It got so bad that it will be pulled from theaters in Coco‘s third weekend.

When I watched this short, I will admit I found it funny (one point honestly had me laughing out loud), but the characters have just gotten worse. I was actually rooting for Olaf to die at one point, and Elsa kept apologizing for EVERYTHING, even when it wasn’t her fault. My sister pointed out that the dialogue between her and Anna is sickeningly sweet and trite, not like something real sisters would say to each other. In other words, Anna and Elsa are less characters and more like cutouts for little girls to coo over. (My mental health side is saying “Elsa you’re STILL not better get the hell out of Arendelle”.)

So with the reaction towards the short, it looks like people are sick of Frozen. The first movie may still be relatively well received, but nobody needs to see this story continued, especially when it’s forced in your face.

The thing is, ultimately, Frozen isn’t a classic. It was a fad. Take a look at The Incredibles. That movie is 13 years old and it is still fondly remembered and the hype for a sequel NEVER died out. Now that the sequel has been announced the world is rejoicing. That movie is a definite classic.

But with Frozen, it’s been less that five years, any demand for a sequel has diminished significantly, and people are starting to realize that less and less effort is being put into the franchise. Too much time has passed since the first Frozen, and people have moved on to Disney’s other films, with demands for a Big Hero 6 sequel still going strong.

But I think the main problem is that Disney tried to treat this one singular movie like it was the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It has a whole media franchise dedicated to it that released tons and tons of material while Disney’s other movies that are also very popular get next to nothing. You know how people got sick of the Minions after their faces were slapped on every single solitary product imaginable and taking the focus away from the rest of Despicable Me? This is what’s happening with Frozen.

From the beginning I knew Frozen 2 was never going to be as successful as the first movie, but now I’m starting to think that it might be Disney’s first actual failure in a long time. I’m especially worried that Disney’s not going to put any real effort into the sequel and try to rush it out in time to appease the remaining fans and little girls.

I guess we’ll ultimately have to see what happens, but Disney better be prepared for the sequel to not do very well and realize that they shouldn’t have propped the first movie up on so high a pedestal. They ran the movie into the ground, and now audiences have moved on. If their franchise ends on a bad note, they have no one to blame but themselves.