Short version: SO. MANY. FEELS.
Coco is the latest Disney/Pixar joint and perhaps the source of the most unexpected feels since Inside Out. Ostensibly, Coco is about a young Mexican kid named Miguel who adores music and plays his DIY guitar whenever he can, even if it’s against his family’s wishes. Because, as Miguel tells it at the beginning of the movie, his great great grandfather abandoned his family to pursue his musical career. His great great grandmother, Imelda, bans music from the household, because of that loss, that grief, and because of that fear that someone else might want to break the family apart because of selfish ambition. Through a series of mishaps, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead, where he’s trying to gain his ancestor’s blessing in order to 1) return to the Land of the Living and 2) prove to his family that music is a-ok because another family member approves of his interest.
The entire movie is a riff on family and remembrance, and how our lives become a legacy for our loved ones. It seems like a simple story at first, but I suppose the crux of the story teeters on how much you care about your own family and your connections to them. In Latin countries, family is everything. It’s the same in Filipino culture, and there were many quirks and nods to Mexican culture in the movie that I also found heart-warmingly familiar because I grew up in a Filipino household. The Day of the Dead celebrations were similar, even though there’s no specific day that the dead would come to visit the living. I remember, as a child, mourning my grandmother’s death in similar fashion. There was an altar set up in the house where my mother would place offerings of my grandmother’s favorite foods and drinks in front of her picture. And on special occasions (my grandmother’s birthday, for example, or Memorial Day, or Christmas) we would visit her grave and, again, leave offerings of her favorite foods on her headstone. It wasn’t just food, however. It was basically anything they enjoyed in life. My family would leave pipe tobacco at the grave of one of my great-uncles, because that was what he loved.
Anyway, yes, Coco is all about the legacy that we leave for our descendants, and what they remember of us after we are gone. It’s also about the healing power of music. There’s a flashback scene where Coco (Miguel’s great-grandmother) is being sung to by her father, the man who left his family for music, and that scene broke my dang heart because my father (who passed away over a decade ag0) did the same thing to me. He used to sing Filipino folk songs and play the guitar and the mandolin, and I used to listen. And the realization that this very personal slice from my life is, in fact, universal made me start to cry, right in the theater.
The film is not perfect. I’m still not 100% on board with the existence of an immigration and customs office in the afterlife. Each person in the Land of the Dead must have their picture displayed on an altar (an ofrenda) in the Land of the Living in order for them to cross over during the Day of the Dead. And the border agents check to see if you’re “legal” in that respect. I suppose it felt a little too on the nose, like the movie is beating you over the head with SYMBOLISM. Also, Frida Kahlo makes an appearance, which also felt a little too on-the-nose. She’s portrayed as THE ECCENTRIC ARTIST. Although, she’s supportive of Miguel’s yearning for acceptance of his artistic career, she comes off as a comic relief character. I didn’t entirely approve. Kahlo was so much more than what she was depicted as in the movie, but there was only so much one can do in a children’s film, I suppose. I did enjoy the shout-outs to Mexican wrestling and El Santo.
But the quibbles didn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the film. It’s about family. It’s about grief and loss and remembering and death. It’s about leaving something behind that your family can remember you by. It’s about legacy, and it just about tore my heart out. I’m fascinated that Pixar would create a family movie that revolves around death and loss, but the message is comforting. That there should always be a way to carry on, even after one is gone.
The only thing I actively disliked about the movie was the Frozen featurette before it. It was not, by any means, a “short.” It’s a story that was gonna be a TV special before Disney realized they could attach it to Pixar’s release and maybe get some more eyeballs on it. Nothing like a captive audience. As much as I like Frozen (and I don’t really understand the Frozen hate/backlash, but sometimes Disney “fans” are bizarre) Olaf’s Frozen Adventure dragged on way too long. Pixar’s shorts are known for their innovation and their ability to tell a complete story in under 10 minutes. This Frozen thing was 20+ minutes of Olaf bumbling through Arendale trying to figure out a new holiday tradition for Anna and Elsa. Which is fine for a forgettable TV special but not before a Pixar movie. By the time the “short” ended, I was already halfway through my popcorn (which I’d apparently chomped down on in frustration.) Hopefully the “short” doesn’t get attached to Coco for the entirety of its run because I really want to watch Coco again but I don’t want to subject myself to that Olaf thing. Perhaps I could just arrive late to the movie theater?