An AniB Christmas Review Special: Coco

First off: A very Merry Christmas to all my readers on this blog! It’s been a wonderful first year of writing and what better way to mark the joy of the season with something I haven’t attempted yet – a movie review! The season is definitely about a variety of wonderful things, starting with the birth of Christ, but it’s also strongly about family, and Pixar’s latest outing- Coco- is an excellent example of this time-treasured theme done beautifully. Also, for those who still may have not seen it, don’t worry: This is a spoiler-free review!

The Lowdown:

Movie: Coco

Studio/year: Pixar, 2017

AniB’s thoughts:

“But, but AniB,” some might ask, “this movie is about the Day of the Dead! Dios de las Muertos! Not Christmas!”  Not to worry; despite the overarching subject material of the movie, Coco is a great Christmas movie, but more importantly; it’s a great movie, no add-ons necessary. Over a month after its release into theaters, it was definitively worth the wait to see Pixar’s latest gem of a film- one that once again is likely to be popular on the awards circuit for 2018 and the company’s strongest outing since Inside Out two years prior at the time of this writing (2015).

Coco is a special film, without a doubt. The story follows the tale of young Miguel Rivera, an aspiring musician in a family of shoemakers for several generations. In turn, the family trade had spawned from the indomitable matriarch Mama Imelda Rivera, who (as it’s explained in the opening sequence), started the business after the untimely departure of her husband in pursuit of his musical career at the expense of their baby child (who that is, I’ll leave up to those who haven’t seen the film to find that out.) As a result, the Rivera family enforces a brutal ban on music, despite Miguel’s love of it, and his secret idolization of Mexico’s greatest, late musical legend- Ernesto de la Cruz. From there, the story’s events unfold on Dios De La Muertos– a tradition the Rivera family, like most in Mexico, hold quite dear to their hearts. From there, quite the adventure unfolds…

An inevitable comparison was made by people to Fox Animation’s Book of Life from 2014; after all, the lead characters in both tales (Miguel and Manolo) are aspiring musicians both looking to follow their dream instead of the family trades of shoemaking and bull-fighting respectively, all wrapped in a festive, enrapturing world of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. However, Coco proves to have a deeper emotional resonance than the latter movie, and is overall the superior film, particularly in its attention to detail, the depth of its characters and the impressive world and story building that occur simultaneously. There’s some impressive eye-candy that makes full use of the medium through the movie’s sequences, including one involving Mexican papels (colorful hanging papers) in the very first part of the film, and the vibrant world of the dead (which was broken down in detail in a neat little segment by Pixar folks pre-movie, including Lee Unkrich.)

Most importantly though, this film reminded me yet again why I love animation, because so often as the folks at Pixar seem to do, they give wide-ranging audiences a glimpse into what animation can be, rather than the childish notions many still hold about it. Coco holds the basic tenets of animation that go back to Steamboat Willie and Co., with plenty of exaggeration, humor and personality, but it also goes about it in a genuinely human way that builds a cohesive story, excellent characterization, and emotional stakes that all too often, animated movies from other studios and outfits (particularly in the West) seem to forget. Prior to the film’s beginning, it was a stark contrast with some of the coming attractions that you tend to see when you peruse animated fare; there was fart jokes, a gnome movie that looked both unsavory and unlikely to change people’s conceptions of what animation can be (and featured one of the garden dwellers in a mankini, which was just awful); a pair of features from Laika and Aardman Animations that have some promise, but conceptually seem hard to get a great pulse on, and then the crown jewel of said previews: the widely-seen Incredibles 2 trailer (which I might add, the original is my personal favorite film of all time.) My viewing of Coco also avoided the widely complained about Frozen short that aired before the movie in its first two to three weeks of release; needless to say, I was quite relieved. Anyways, here’s my attempt on a grading basis for my first official animated movie review:


Animation Quality: 3-D animation. Being Pixar, this category is always superb quality and the best in the business for 3-D. The level of detail and craftsmanship in every shot, along with the detailed a vibrant character models breath life into an enrapturing world steeped in the culture of Mexico and the mythos of the Day of the Dead, all while creating a unique experience that also enhances the strong story backbone and the excellent soundtrack. 5/5 points.

Characterization: As mentioned, Miguel Rivera is the lead character; he’s a 12 year old boy who despite being stuck in a family who hates music for a very specific reason, aspires to not only be a musician, but chase his dreams like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. He’s a boy with big dreams, but increasingly finds his love for his family at a crossroads with his deeply held-musical convictions, a situation that finds itself at a head as the Day of the Dead comes…

The Rivera clan themselves are a great extended family that stretches several generations, including a number of dead relatives who are remembered religiously, with the exception of Mama Imelda’s wandering musician husband. Just who could that man be?…

Speaking of questions, you might be wondering: Just who is Coco? The titular character of the movie is someone very important to Miguel and pivotal in an unforeseen way; for the sake of not spoiling events, this character is very surprising how they factor into the film. (Those who have seen the film- you know.)

Finally, Miguel has a de-facto sort of pet, a hairless street dog named Dante. Eternally happy with a big sloppy pink tongue hanging out of his mouth and always hungry, Dante is a loyal companion, though a bit slow on the uptake.

The emotional stakes and character development in such a contained amount of time is very satisfying and well-done. Much of this focuses on Miguel, and [spoiler], another certain someone he meets in his travels who’s down on his luck, but it’s wonderful to watch and experience first-hand. 5/5 points.

Story quality: As expected of a movie, Coco is a wonderfully engaging story, but as is Pixar’s hallmark, avoids the pitfall of cheap, low-brow humor in favor of a tightly paced narrative that also doubles as a musical with the excellent score that was composed (more on that in a bit). The story itself has a wonderful ethnic flair, and seamlessly transitions from part to part in the film for a cohesive well-crafted story. Most importantly though, the emotional core of this film, which I keep coming back to, is absolutely stunning, and must be seen for itself. 5/5 points.

Themes: Mi famila, mi familia, mi familia! Yes, family is one of the most time-worn themes out there, but this film nails that aspect beautifully by sculpting the film’s actual story around just how deeply that tie can run. It never gets old to see family done right in a film, and the specific way in which this idea is achieved is truly unique. Aside from that, there’s a undertow about while it’s worth following your dreams, and perhaps “seizing the moment!” as Ernesto de la Cruz puts it, it’s also fair to question one’s morality in how far they will go to achieve such a vision… A solid, solid execution of both these major ideas rest in Coco though, and that’s extremely satisfying. 4.25/5 points.

Don’t insult the viewer: Coco’s a masterpiece. Truly, this is a beautiful movie for all the reasons I already listed, but one other truly outstanding aspect remains to be discussed: the score, composed by Michael Giancchino. This film is Pixar’s best when it comes to music, taking heavy influence from sister studio Disney in crafting an authentic Mexican flaired bevy of songs, which are both beautiful and catchy. (Also, what’s a movie set in Mexico without guitars and mariachi? The answer: a sad film.) 5/5 points.

Total: 24.25/25 (97%). Coco is a triumph of animated film yet again from the folks at Pixar, with deeply cohesive storytelling that bears a true emotional core. This film is definitely for everyone- but in the kind of way that will deeply resonate at the heartstrings in any age. It’s definitely a must watch.


Merry Christmas! Like what you see? Chat about Coco in the comments!

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Hunter x Hunter’s Chimera Ant arc is finally getting an English dub

It’s about time- A brief history of HxH’s longest arc.

A few months back, I wrote excitedly about the fact that Greed Island for the first time was receiving an English dub, despite existing in some anime form since at least the early 2000’s. However, this might be even bigger…

An arc considered by many serious fans of the Hunter x Hunter manga and anime to be one of the finest not only in the show, but also across the genre, is finally on the verge of being dubbed. Very early Sunday morning will mark the beginning of the longest arc in the series airing in English on Toonami in the United States, and for those who haven’t seen it- buckle up, you’re in for a ride.

As with the Greed Island piece, here’s a brief history of the Chimera Ant arc:

2003: As the original HxH anime continued on with its set of Greed Island OVAs’, Yoshirio Togashi released the beginning of the arc in the manga on October 8th- which coupled with the frequent hiatuses of the series, would result in it lasting until April 2012- nearly 9 years!

2011: The Hunter x Hunter reboot (and the series mostly talked about) begins. At this point, the Chimera Ant arc is not complete yet in the manga, let alone the anime.

2013: Roughly a year after the manga finished the arc, the anime begins its version of it, marking the first new animated Hunter x Hunter story part since Greed Island’s OVAs finished in 2004. The arc would run into early summer of 2014.

2017: With the conclusion of Greed Island’s first ever English dub, the Chimera Ants will finally be heard in English on the Sunday of this writing (12/10/17 for posterity.)


As it stands, it’s rather difficult to talk too much at length about this very long and detailed arc without major spoilers for those watching for the first time, but the places in which the story goes during the next 60 episodes crosses the ranges of human emotions and psychology in ways shonen anime rarely, if ever does. It will be interesting to hear the VA choices for several characters, including the duo in the picture for this article, and with the shift in the story, it should really test the abilities of the dub actors to capture the same depth and intensity as the original VA’s.

Overall, there’s a lot to be excited about- and in many ways, it’s like an early Christmas present. Here’s hoping for both long-time fans and newcomers alike the English experience of the Chimera Ants is unforgettable.

Finally, here’s the very nice ending theme of the arc, but in 8-bits:

(I’ll leave the full version for the newcomers to discover. Credit to Studio Megaane for the track.)


Like what you see? Any more thoughts on Hunter x Hunter? Leave a comment!

An end of September update-

Hello dear readers,

As you no doubt have noticed, I’ve been absent from writing new posts in the month of September. This is largely because I’ve begun a new program at school, and needed the time to adjust and get integrated in a new semester’s worth of coursework. The other reason however, is that I have not had the time to truly write the quality of material that I strive to always post on this blog, out of respect to you- the readers, and to my own standards. That said, I’m looking to return in October with some new material, including some seasonally-themed work, so look forward to that!

Sincerely,

Christian, aka “AniB”

 

So, an update…

Hey everyone!

My apologies for the slow period…but I’ve been juggling school-related stuff and a writing competition at the same time, so it accounts for the lack of new material in the past 2 and a half weeks. I assure you- I’ve been watching some shows, drafting some new material and have some interesting ideas- so I’ll be trying to get that out sooner rather than later! Until then, please continue to enjoy the existing articles and reviews, and know I’m investing in continuing to make this the best animation blog on the internet!

Sincerely,

Christian, aka “AniB”

Oscars 2017: Best Animated Picture?

Well, here we are again at the granddaddy of movie award shows. As someone who is involved in the writing of the field of animation, I figured it’d be best to offer a few words up on the Oscars and the only category that matters to yours truly: Animated Film.

Generally, I only care about results when it comes to award shows, much the same way as when I watch shows. I don’t follow the Oscars for their over-bloated pageantry, self-aggrandizing celebrities who pat each other on the back and give meaningless compliments to other influential people they know, or to watch people on the Internet have meltdowns over “x amount” of diversity or lack thereof. I’m just interested in the movies themselves, the people who put the work into said films, and the statistics behind it. So, here’s a list of the past 10 winners, with studios, to give a recent historical representation of this category (and note, the year is when the movies came out, not the award ceremony date, which is always the following year.)

2016: ?

2015: Inside Out (Pixar)

2014: Big Hero 6 (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2013: Frozen (Walt Disney Animation Studios)

2012: Brave (Pixar)

2011: Rango (Paramount Pictures)

2010: Toy Story 3 (Pixar)

2009: Up (Pixar)

2008: WALL-E (Pixar)

2007: Ratatouille (Pixar)

2006: Happy Feet (Warner Bros.)


So going back a decade, Pixar has unsurprisingly dominated the category, taking 6 out of the past 10 awards- but only twice in the past 5 years. With Finding Dory locked out of the category this year, it’s guaranteed another studio will win it. And it may very well be Walt Disney Studios, who won two out of the last 3 times and managed to get two cracks at the award this year with Zootopia and Moana, which both made the grade. As for the outliers on this list, Rango was a surprise in a very weak year (2011) and Happy Feet was much the same, beating out the underwhelming (by Pixar standards, anyways) Cars and Monster House when the category only had 3 entrants in that year.

Historically, this category does not bode well for foreign film nominations, despite the uptick in such films for the category this decade. Only two times a non-American studio has taken home the prize- Aardman Animations in 2005 with Wallace and Gromit, and Studio Ghibli with the classic Spirited Away in 2002. Since 2001, that means only 12.5% of the time this award went to a veritable outsider; comparatively, Pixar has won 8 out of the 17 times the category has been an award- an astonishing 47% success rate, which is unreal for one studio. It honestly would be refreshing to see The Red Turtle or My Life as a Zucchini break through, but I’m not holding my breath.

The Academy also loves nominating stop-motion films if they get one, with the addendum that they almost never win. In fact, the aforementioned Wallace and Gromit is the lone example; while 5 out of the past 8 years including this one (Kubo and the Two Strings) have a nominee, including 3 movies of this variety in 2012, exactly zero have won. That could very well change, but it’s a little dubious for Studio Laika as it stands.

If you haven’t heard, or have been living under a rock the past 5 years, the House of Mouse has re-found its lost magic and has to be considered the favorite to bring home the award, with a 40% shot between its two nominees. I’ve believed for a while now that Zootopia, with its themes and message (not to mention, it actually pulled the “anthropomorphic animal” film off and was totally refreshing with it) will probably win the award, especially given recent history for the studio as well. At any rate, whether you love the Oscars or not, or are just here to read about more animation, it’s a strong category this year with 5 very worthy entries, which have had compelling cases made by plenty of other people. If you’re ever unsure what to think though, take my word for it: go out and watch the films yourself! There is no substitution for actual experience, and only then can you really form an original opinion. May the best movie win, and here’s hoping 2017 proves to be equally compelling!


Like what you see? Surprised I wrote about movies for a change? Leave a comment!

On characters…

Just a quick post, but I’m going to being doing some more in-depth character analysis writings when I see fit, or if a character is interesting enough. The formal reviews give a broad view of the land, per se, but some characters deserve more than a paragraph of notoriety. (The same is true about some truly awful characters for a ranting session, but that’s a different issue.) As I wrote in my pinned post about grading, characters are the main attraction of any show. If you don’t have compelling, interesting, and likeable characters, your show probably is not going to get very far. I’ll admit, I have my personal favorites like everybody else, but what you’re not going to see from this blog is fantasizing about ridiculous scenarios that are out of character or context for a given individual. But I definitely want to highlight some especially well-written ones in a way that is both interesting to me, and hopefully, to you as well.