Film Review: Coco

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early challenger for my film of the year.

Disney and Pixar knock this one out of the park creating a beautiful, gorgeous world to tell a charming and affecting story of family, music and remembrance.

Set in Mexico and based around the Day of the Dead festivities this is probably Pixar’s best movie since Inside Out and one which takes a place with the very best the studio has produced.

The Rivera family have effectively banned music after an ancestor left to become a singer, never returning and meaning his wife had to work, creating a successful shoe making business. However, young boy Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is loves music and has adopted local musical legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) as his hero.

He wants to take part in a talent show but is forbidden by his grandmother, who insists he spends Day of the Dead with his family. As they set out the pictures of dead ancestors and relatives, the photo of his great-great-grandmother is dropped. The broken frame reveals that the photo has been folded. Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, the runaway musician, who’s face has been torn from the picture is revealed to be holding Ernesto’s famous guitar.

Miguel takes this as a sign, and argues that he his honouring his family’s traditions, but his grandmother smashes his guitar. Angry, Miguel storms out, announcing he doesn’t want to be part of the family. Desperate to find a guitar to compete he breaks into De La Cruz’s crypt and steals the car.

It is at this point the movie really kicks in, with the already charming and likeable film embracing the supernatural and introducing the ghostly ancestors who have come across to the land of the living to visit their family. The art here is great with the ghostly figures styled after sugar skulls and their skeletal figures retaining unique characteristics for each person.

Miguel can see them because having been cursed for stealing from the dead. He must break the curse by sunrise, by obtaining the blessing of a family member, however, his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) only offers a blessing with the condition that he never plays music. The rest of the family refuse to go against the matriarch and so Miguel decides to find De La Cruz.

Miguel travels through the city of the dead, a vibrant, strange world with his only guide Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a scruffy, trickster who tries to trick his way across to the living. But nobody has put up a photo of him so he can not cross. He claims to know Ernesto and agrees to help Miguel on the condition that he takes his photo so he can cross once more and see his daughter one last time before she forgets him.

When the dead are forgotten they vanish forever, and Hector’s daughter is the only one who remembers him.

Can Miguel break the curse? Will his hero Ernesto help him? And will Hector get to see his daughter again?

This film is simply gloruous. The artwork is beautiful and the colourful, sprawling city of the dead and it’s residents are extremely well done.

The characters are fantastic too, with Miguel a charming, likeable hero. He has humour and courage, and it’s through his eyes we experience the wonderful world he enters.

Similarly, the swaggering De La Cruz and scruffy Hector are both engaging and interesting characters and their story unfolds nicely. One of the revelations is easy to see coming, but there are a few twists in the tale.

As Miguel tries to break the curse he comes to understand the importancr of family and how much they mean to him. It also serves as a powerful reminder of respecting our past and appreciating how it shapes us.

The film has raw emotional power, not just in the melancholic nature of the city of the dead but in the handling of Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who is losing her memory and in confused moments still waiting for her father to return.

Sod it, I have to give a spoiler here, but to be fair, most grown up viewers will guess it during the movie.

Hector is Coco’s father, and he did know Ernesto, in fact he wrote many of his songs. Ernesto’s bombastic signature tune “Remember Me” is actually based on a quieter, more low key song Hector wrote and sang to his daughter.

The scene where Miguel returns home and sings this to her, reviving the long dormant memory is one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and reduced WoM and me to tears.

The moving scene, which captures all of the film’s themes is wonderful and caps the movie beautifully.

Loaded with charm, gorgeous to look at and profoundly moving, this one will be hard to beat in 2018.

Verdict: An utter delight. Some plot developments are easy to see coming, but it doesn’t rob the film of it’s ability to move you. A fun, emotional and beautiful film. 9.5.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Bucket List #30: Ride an elephant

In my naivety I’d somehow gotten into my head that elephants were like dogs or horses, and that after centuries of living alongside man were kinda happy with their role. I imagined that for a creature as large as an elephant, a person on their back wouldn’t be a big deal. 

And so, as part of a Tarzan style fantasy I added riding an elephant to my bucket list.

How I imagined it going

Of course, this turned out not to be the case and reading about the elephant riding industry in Asia made for depressing reading (more). With all this new info I couldn’t in good conscience hop aboard Jumbo or Nelly and have a ride.

But crossing something off the bucket list without having done it seemed to be a cop out. I could just delete stuff if they became too tricky to achieve, and for me part of the idea of the list was to stretch myself.

No, it would have to stay. And to cross it off I would have to get creative.

And so, back in the Autumn I worked out how I could do it without any animals suffering. Where could offer such a solution? Disney World of course. 

Yes, high on my list of things to do in the happiest place on Earth was jump aboard the Dumbo ride. And so, I succeeded in riding an elephant.

And before anyone says this was the easy way out, they’ve obviously never suffered the suspicious stares you get as a lone adult male queuing for what is essentially a children’s ride.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #18: The Sword in the Stone

I’ve always regarded this as a second tier Disney movie. It never clicked for me and I felt it wasn’t as fun or memorable as many of their other films. It wasn’t quite down at the same level as Pinocchio which I actively disliked, but it didn’t leap off the shelf when we were looking for a video to put on.

I think part of the problem was that as a British kid I was aware of the King Arthur legends from a young age, and this version didn’t sit with the one in my head. Arthur was a sword swinging badass, not an annoying kid. And who was this bumbling mad professor type bloke? Merlin was a powerful wizard, an intimidating figure who could bend reality. 

Watching the film it starts rather well, with the set up of the sword in the stone myth. It arrives and whoever pulls it is the new King. Neat and tidy, even if it is no basis for a system of government.

From there, however, it loses me. Merlin decides to teach the annoying kid who would be king, to ensure he is smart and does something with his life. Bear in mind Merlin can travel through time, so he already knows Art is on course for big things.

Merlin’s lessons are fairly nonsensical. He turns Arthur into a fish in order for him to learn that sometimes brains triumph over brawn, and also physics? Similarly, when turned into a squirrel Arthur learns about gravity and also to look before you leap. 

 That’s it really. Arthur doesn’t achieve things, or grow into a decent candidate for King, he just had three episodic transformations. They’re amusing enough, but it’s a weak story. On his third lesson he meets Madam Mim and this does pick the movie up a bit as Mim and Merlin have a wizard duel.

This sees them transform into different creatures to try and gain victory over the other. It’s visually entertaining and adds energy to the movie, and the deliberately nasty Mim is a treat.

After that Arthur heads to London, grabs the sword to help out the knight he squires for and is crowned king. If that feels rushed, well it unfolds screen pretty damn quickly too.

The new King Arthur is scared he’s can’t handle the gig but Merlin returns and reassures him that he will go down in history as a great king. Which reassures the lad, although it might have been helpful had Merlin told him to watch out for a bloke Lancelot who would steal his girl.

The flaws that drove me from this as a kid are still there- the plot is weak, it’s a rather dull version of the King Arthur myth and it fails to live up to Disney’s high standards.

That being said there are a few fun moments and cute touches, like the lovestruck squirrel who falls for Arthur. And, as mentioned, the demented Mim is a great character and the wizard duel, especially the finishing move, is very well done.

Disney Score: 4/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Epcot Top 5

Epcot, or Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow to give it’s full name, differs from the rest of WDW, and feels a bit more grown up. There are still rides and characters about, but it might be a bit dull for younger visitors, and there is an educational vibe to much of it.

There was also a food and wine festival going on and so there were more childless adults here.

Still, there was enough to keep older kids interested and the World Showcase with zones based on different countries is cool.

It’s also well worth staying for the closing firework show “Illuminations of Earth” as it is stunning. Anyway, here’s the top 5:

5. Spaceship Earth

Hosted in the park’s iconic globe this ride takes you back in time to see the development of civilisation. Narration from Judi Dench adds some class and the end part “imagine the future” is great fun, using photos from the ride to add you to cartoon visions of the future.

4. Short Film Festival

A trio of Disney and Pixar shorts presented in 3D. The Mickey Mouse story “Get a Horse” is the best, making great use of the technology to make a fourth wall shattering film loaded with sight gags. And it was cool to rewatch Feast and Piper.

3. Soarin

WoM wanted to ride this flight simulator, but was nervous due to her aversion of heights. Being a good husband I reassured her and did my best to keep her calm.

My confidence evaporated when we wound up higher than I had anticipated, and my own elevation anxieties kicked in. The ride is wonderful and incredibly immersive, the gigantic screen makes you feel as if you’re actually flying over the global landmarks you’re shown. Of course, my enjoyment was tempered when I made the rookie mistake of looking straight down.

Not wanting to panic WoM I had to play it cool until we were back on the ground. It was worth it however, as she loved it.

2. Frozen Ever After 

A newer ride with some cool animatronic effects featuring some of the movie’s best songs. This was lots of fun andba few quick drops and backward parts keep you on your toes.

1. The Finding Nemo stuff

There’s quite a big section devoted to Finding Nemo which is cool as I love that movie. There are three sections but I’m counting them as one. 

Part one is a fun ride which mixes screens, animatronics and projections on real tanks, as you help Marlin look for Nemo after he wanders off.

Then there’s the actual aquarium which features a wide range of sea creatures and is pretty cool. There’s also a dolphin show.

And finally “Turtle Talk” an interactive show featuring Crush the sea turtle as he answers audience questions. I always dug Crush due to his surfer drawl and laid back vibe. He works well as the host and it’s fun and educational, and there are some cameos thrown in as well.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom Top 5

Much as we enjoyed Animal Kingdom, it was definitely my least favourite of the parks. Given how much I loved Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom this isn’t harsh criticism.

It’s just that I left both of those parks with a list of things I still wanted to do, whereas here it felt like I got everything out of it in one day.

I loved the wildlife aspect, but Pandora was a dud. Anyway, here’s the top five:

5. Feast of the Lion King

A fun show featuring animatronic characters alongside dancers, acrobats and Timon. The performers work the crowd well and it’s fun and vibrant.

4. Finding Nemo: The Musical 

A clever show which sees performers use large puppets of the characters to provide a condensed, musical version of the story. Fun but a little lightweight. Also don’t take little kids as the death of Nemo’s mother and siblings broke a few younger audience members.

3. Kali River Rapids

Fast paced river ride with fast turns and drops. You will get wet but this is very much part of the fun and it packs in plenty of thrills. Very entertaining.

2. Rivers of Light

Animal Kingdom’s nightly firework show this works off the theme of light, water and life. Using boats, lights and projections this was visually striking and the theme of how all life is connected is cool. The skill, artistry and technology on show are admirable and it’s wonderful.

1. Kilimanjaro Safari

As a nature lover the safari was a big draw for me and it didn’t disappoint. The reserve is set out in a clever way which provides the animals with plenty of space. The bumpy ride adds to the atmosphere and the guides provide interesting and entertaining commentary.

There are wonderful animals to see and for a Brit it’s nice to see the animals of Africa basking in the sun and not sulking in drizzle. The kids aboard were fascinated and anything that gets children into loving nature and conservation is a good thing.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Meeting Characters

I have a friend who went to Walt Disney World and refused to have pictures with the characters. I guess they saw it as childish or lame.

I think they were wrong. Meeting the characters is a lot of fun.

Sure, I felt a little odd and self conscious at first, but like the whole Disney experience it goes a lot better if you just throw yourself into it all. Don’t try and resist or act cool, just go with it and let the Disney atmosphere sweep you along. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun. 

For me the easiest moment to go with it came when my inner child came rushing to the surface. Why? Because I met the towering galactic hero that is Chewbacca.

We were waiting in line and next up when Chewie came around the corner to greet us. In that moment I didn’t think about the fact it was a staff member, I just was overjoyed to be face to face with a character from one of my favourite movies. Look at the photo below, look how childishly happy I am. 

There were other great moments in meeting the characters from Tigger jumping on me as I walked through Magic Kingdom to Peter Pan consoling me into having been tricked into marriage and growing up. Also there was the knowledge that our nephew back home had been amazed to see photos of his aunt and uncle with Mickey Mouse.

I really wanted to meet Stitch, one of my all time favourites, but was told he probably wasn’t going to be about. So, when we found him a few days later I was stoked to add him to my photo album.

I’ll admit that I found it easier with the masked characters than those without (e.g. the Princesses) but they were all magnificent and fun. I got really into meeting as many as possible, and seeing how great they were with guests was heartwarming.

So if you go to Disney do yourself a favour, get an autograph book and go meet these iconic characters.

Let out your inner child, your outer adult will enjoy it just as much. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Magic Kingdom Top 5

WOM favours Hollywood Studios but for me this is the best of the parks. It’s got the iconic castle, a variety of different themed areas and more rides. It even has a section devoted to my favourite Disney movie Tangled.

With so much here narrowing down a top five was tough, so here are a few honourable mentions: The Muppets’ Great Moments From History show, Journey of the Little Mermaid and the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor.

And now the top 5:

5. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Similar to the Toy Story games at Hollywood Studios this sees you riding an armed cart through various stages trying to hit targets. The difference here being that there are no 3D screens, just a laser pointer. It made it more challenging but I still managed to beat WOM twice and max out the scoreboard.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean

An old ride but with new updates and appearances from Jack Sparrow, means it continues to appeal. It’s surprisingly dark with scenes of pirate debauchery and one where they auction off female prisoners as “wives”. That’s probably part of the appeal and what sets it apart from most of the park which is bright and happy.

3. Jungle Cruise

A boat ride in a jungle setting with animatronic characters this was elevated by our guide, who delivered a stream of cheesy gags, puns and one liners, all delivered in wonderful deadpan. 

2. Festival of Fantasy parade

All the characters appear aboard some fantastic floats. The cheerful vibe is infectious and it’s hard not to become a big kid and return the waves of the characters. Simply joyous. 

1. Haunted Mansion

The best ghost train ride I’ve ever been on, thanks to some great effects and delightfully creepy design and flourishes. It’s also helped by a sense of humour and flair reminiscent of Vincent Price or old Hammer movies. Great macabre fun, but please, don’t take little kids on it.

Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: It’s A Small World

Having a pint of Guiness in Dublin. Placing a bet in Vegas. Taking a photo so it looks like you’re holding the Tower of Pisa up.

There are somethings that you pretty much have to do in certain places.

A trip to Walt Disney World wouldn’t be complete without a go on one of their most famous rides. The slow boat ride through various settings showing small animatronic children representing various nations. They are accompanied by the eponymous song, a cheery, upbeat number about peace and brotherhood. (The song written by the Sherman brothers who wrote the songs for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book)

The ride is often dismissed as cheesy and a little naff. Even Disney themselves have poked fun at it.

These criticisms are fair enough, although the quaint, optimistic tone has a certain charm. But for me the major problem is that it is creepy as hell.

I should clarify that I have a minor case of pediophobia. This is the fear of dolls, and dummies. Ventriloquist dummies, old china dolls, they freak me the hell out. After clowns they are my major phobia. Clown dolls are literally the worst thing I can encounter.

WOM had warned me it might creep me out, but I put on a brave face and climbed aboard. Right off the bat there was a problem, the bench was painfully low and so my knees were up by my chin, not the most comfortable ride.

Made worse by the fact that the dolls stare at you with their dead eyes. And there are seemingly thousands of the buggers.

I tried to enjoy the ride but it’s hard to when you’re trying to keep your eye on every single doll just in case one moves from it’s cycle. Had one of them done so there would have been a Chris shaped hole in the wall and I wouldn’t have stopped running until I was out of the state. 

I was glad when the ride was over, and having unfolded my legs got off quickly, and now done I never have to do it again.

Kinda bummed they don’t actually sell the badge below as I earned it.

The dolls have slipped into my subconscious now, to haunt future dreams, while the impossibly catchy song is bound to make an appearance on the Random Mental Jukebox, so it might be that of all the things I saw and did at Disney this will be the one that stays with me the longest.

 Any thoughts? You know what to. BETEO.


Walt Disney World: Hollywood Studios Top 5

We started our honeymoon here, at WOM’s favourite of the four Disney parks. Boasting some traditional Disney stuff alongside Star Wars and Pixar things, this park seems geared at the middle range of pre-teens to adults. There’s plenty to do here and it was good first taste of what the parks are like.

Here’s my personal top 5 things to do:

5. Toy Story Midway Madness 

You hop aboard a ghost train style carriage with a buddy, armed with a string pulled cannon each. As it whips you around you fire at 3D screens, each themed around a different Toy Story character or setting. It’s hugely entertaining and it keeps score to add a competitive aspect. WOM bested me here, leaving me vowing revenge.

4. Muppetvision 3D.

I absolutely love the Muppets and this 3D extravaganza is loaded with their trademark silliness in charms. Light on plot it basically serves as a framework for daft gags and 3D trickery. It’s great fun and the fact that several characters appear in the theatre is a nice touch. 

3. Star Tours

This is what used to be called a 4D ride, which mixes a 3D screen with actually throwing the audience about.

You get on board with C-3PO and R2-D2 and take flight. You’re pitched about as the ship takes you through various settings. As a huge Star Wars fan I loved it especially making the jump to hyperspace. 

A cool touch is that there are several storylines for the ride meaning that the two times we rode it were different adventures, encouraging you to ride again. 

2. Indiana Jones’ Epic Stunt Spectacular

A live show filled with actions and explosions, its appealing cheesiness is carried off by the great cast, who play the crowd well and inject humour. Also the big stunts are genuinely impressive.

1. Fantasmic

WOM saw this on her previous visit to WDW in 2007 and still raves about it, so expectations were high. But boy did it deliver.

A journey into Mickey’s imagination this makes great use of fireworks, fountains, lights and projections cast onto the mist. The show is about the power of imagination and sees various Disney villains try to use it against him. This sequence might be too scary for some younger kids but good prevails.

The finale which features many Disney characters is a massive crowdpleaser and the whole show is guaranteed to charm and impress all ages.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Disney Classics #17: One Hundred and One Dalmatians

I remember reading the book this is based on in school, I think because the English department decided it would get them an easy day or two as they took us all to see the live action version. They could have saved themselves the hassle of a shepherding us on to buses and making sure none of us wandered off in Swansea by just sticking this on for a couple of lessons, as this is definitely the superior version.

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The story starts with narration from Pongo (Rod Taylor), who laments the bachelor life he finds dull and decides to find partners for himself and his “pet” Roger (Ben Wright). From the window he spies Perdita (Cate Bauer) and her human companion Anita (Lisa Davis), and rushes out to win her over. This sequence is quite well done, with Pongo looking out the window at the passing canines and dismissing them for various reasons, which match with their owners, going along with the notion of owners looking like their dogs.

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After a short time Roger and Anita marry, and Perdita announces she is expecting puppies. The joy is slightly marred by the arrival of Cruella De Vil (Betty Lou Gerson), an old schoolmate of Anita’s who is obsessed with furs, and delights in the pattern of the dogs’ coats. When Perdita delivers fifteen puppies, Cruella offers to buy them all, but Roger refuses.

Cruella De Vil is a great villain, a gaunt figure surrounded in noxious cigarette smoke. From her entrance at the wheel of a careening car, she is a dynamic, captivating presence and over the course of the movie she becomes increasingly dishevelled and unhinged as her mania takes over. The film’s most memorable song is the theme tune that Roger creates for her, detailing her wicked nature.

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Shortly after while the parents and their owners are out, two goons Jasper and Horace (J. Pat O’Malley and Frederick Worlock, respectively) trick their way into the house and steal the puppies. With the human police having no leads the dogs take the lead (unintentional pun) and get the word out through “the twilight bark” a method of relaying messages across the country.

One of the cool things about this sequence is that there’s a nice little easter egg for observant viewers, with several characters from Lady and the Tramp having little cameos.

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The chain yields results and the puppies, along with many others, are discovered. The message is sent back and Pongo and Perdita rush to the rescue.

The rest of the film is an enjoyable adventure, with the courageous canines saving the puppies and then trying to avoid capture as they escape through the snow. The whole thing is quite pacy and there are a few tense moments as they try to escape. The action is slapstick in places, but it works far better in cartoon form, and watching it back I was impressed, with the movie holding up quite well.

It could do with a few more songs, and the goons are a little too bumbling for my tastes, but these minor quibbles aside this is a good adventure which has a certain charm.

Disney Score: 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.