Pixar’s movie “Coco” premiered in Mexico a full month ahead of the rest of the world, so I went to see it as soon as I could. Should you watch it? Yes!!!!!! Here’s why you’ll love it.
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The entire country of Mexico was ready to hate “Coco”.
Back in 2013, people in Mexico were enraged when Disney attempted to trademark the term “Dia de los Muertos” because Pixar was working on a Day of the Dead film project. To give you an idea, this was similar to Disney trying to trademark the term “Christmas” in order make a movie. It was outrageous.
In light of the controversy, Disney dropped the bid, but many Mexicans became suspicious of Pixar’s intentions. It seemed like the animation giant wanted to plunder one of Mexico’s most beloved traditions. This wasn’t bueno at all.
Fortunately, Pixar learned from this early mistake and did everything it could to make up for it. Director Lee Unkrich traveled all over Mexico to do extensive research, he hired Mexican and Latino consultants and animators, he cast Latino actors, and he brought on Latino filmaker Adrian Molina as codirector. He even referred to the movie as a “love letter for Mexico.”
As a final apology, Pixar decided to premiere “Coco” in Mexico a full month ahead of the rest of the world, just in time to celebrate the Day of the Dead.
But the big questions remained. Would Mexicans like “Coco”? And what about audiences around the world?
Surprisingly, the answer is a huge, resounding “YES!!!”, and here’s why.
5 Reasons Why You Will Love Pixar’s Coco (No Spoilers!)
“Coco” is a film that tells the story of Miguel, a little Mexican boy who comes into conflict with his family and magically travels to the land of the Dead during the Day of the Dead festival.
But enough with the plot spoilers! Let’s put some cultural fears to rest first.
Despite the fact that the story is set in Mexico, the film is suitable for people of all ages and backgrounds. Although the environment is decidedly Mexican, the story is relatable enough for anyone to enjoy.
And please don’t worry about the seemingly macabre topic. The Day of the Dead is a holiday which has nothing to do with death worship and the occult. Although it has pre-European roots, it’s also derived from the ancient Christian festival of All Hallow’s Day. You can read more about the Day of the Dead here.
I promise your kids won’t be freaked out or brainwashed. In the worst of cases, they’ll want you to tell them more about their grandparents and their heritage, and maybe they’ll even appreciate their family a little more. Nothing wrong with that.
Now, on with the show!
1. You’ll love “Coco” because it’s about family and tradition
In Mexico, family is the center of life, and “Coco” gets this down right. As a matter of fact, the movie goes far beyond the Day of the Dead festivities to portray the tight-knit closeness of Mexican families.
The movie manages to capture exactly what the Day of the Dead is all about- remembering beloved family members and carrying on their memory across generations.
Now, we all know the problems with family. You don’t choose it, you’re born into it. A family can be dysfunctional, it can be suffocating, it might not support all your wildest dreams. Families can sometimes drive you crazy.
In spite of everything, in the end your family is important because they are your roots. They hold you tight during the storm and give you a place to stand on and grow. And most importantly, a family loves you.
As it turns out, the colored skulls and marigold petals are actually just props. Family is what “Coco” is all about.
2. It’s stunningly accurate
To be honest, I was afraid the movie would be full of the same old clichés and stereotypes, but I have to admit it isn’t. In fact, the cultural accuracy is stunning.
If you’re not Mexican, you’ll probably learn a lot about the culture simply from watching the movie. Pixar did their homework surprisingly well.
The way the movie family interacts with each other is like watching my relatives in a family reunion, energetic matriarch included. Even Miguel’s great-grandmother looks exactly like my very own great-grandmother once did! And yes, the deadly chancla footwear is a real-life threat to Mexican children everywhere.
It’s very touching to see how the movie family treats the great-grandmother. The way Miguel kisses her is exactly how I used to greet my great-granny, and it’s also exactly how my children greet their own great-grandma. The film shows the way elderly relatives are treated in traditional Mexican families.
Also, the Day of the Dead is portrayed down to the tiniest details. The offerings, the food, the cut paper banners, and the cementery are all exactly what they look like in real life. There are even references to things that aren’t widely known outside of Mexico, like the marigold paths and the colorful, chimera-like “alebrijes”.
FYI, the funny-looking dog wasn’t carelessly thrown into the mix. Xoloitzcuintle dogs are in fact an ancient, hairless Mexican breed. And his tongue doesn’t just hang out for comic relief. Real Xoloitzcuintle dogs can sometimes carry a gene that causes the lack of a few or several teeth, so that their tongues unwillingly stick out as a result.
Another curious fact is that the Aztecs believed Xoloitzcuintle dogs would guide their journey to the Afterworld, which is clearly suggested in the film. I was truly surprised when I saw just how deep the Pixar team dug into their research.
The movie also draws a lot of inspiration from the golden era of Mexican cinema. One of the main characters, Ernesto de la Cruz, looks exactly like Mexico’s most beloved movie star, Pedro Infante. The film even reflects the devotion Mexicans still feel for Infante 60 years after his death.
Also, many of Mexico’s most famous celebrities are shown as colorful skeletons, such as Frida Kahlo, El Santo, Maria Felix, Cantiflas, Jorge Negrete, and Pedro Infante himself.
As a Mexican, I truly identified with the movie in general, but you don’t need to understand every single little cultural detail to enjoy it. All this cultural accuracy just happens to create a rich environment which is entertaining to watch.
3. The music is amazing
Music is central the plot, which is very fitting because in Mexico, music can be found everywhere and anywhere. And the score, recorded in Mexico City with Mexican musicians and in collaboration with Mexican artists, certainly does justice to Mexico’s tradition of great music.
When you think of Mexican music, it’s very likely mariachi music will come to mind. And while “Coco” certainly relies on it, the score also draws from other, lesser-known Mexican genres, like lively sones and romantic boleros. It makes for a truly amazing soundtrack.
The music also draws inspiration from traditional Mexican folk tunes. The song “Llorona”, which is performed near the film’s climax, is one such traditional tune, of the kind my own children learn to sing in school. I’m telling you, these Pixar people did their homework.
To tell the truth, I think the Spanish version of the movie might be better simply because of the music. The boy who voices Miguel in Spanish, Luis Angel Jaramillo, sings a lot better than Anthony Gonzalez in the English version.
Also, the main singing character in the movie, Ernesto de la Cruz, is voiced in Spanish by Mexican singer Marco Antonio Solis. And yes, he’s way better than Benjamin Bratt, as are the other singing voices. There’s no contest here.
I don’t know about you, but one thing I’ve never really liked about Disney films is how the characters suddenly burst into strange singing sequences. Thankfully, “Coco” avoids this even though music a central theme.
The singing scenes are relevant and absolutely not weird. It might not be a musical, but the movie handles music noticeably well. Thumbs up on this, Pixar!
4. It looks beautiful
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Pixar film which is as aesthetically beautiful as “Coco”. Probably not since “Finding Nemo”, in my opinion.
“Coco” is truly a feast for the eyes. At least, it was for my Mexican eyes. It’s colorful, as it should be, full of bright pink, blue, purple, orange, and green hues. Your eyes will likely explode if you’re into neutral color schemes. You have been warned!
Of course, leave it to Pixar to make skeletons seem cute. If you’re worried about your kids freaking out over creepy skeletons, you can lay those fears to rest. The characters are designed to look friendly, likeable, and amusing. If you can tolerate kids dressing up in Halloween costumes, you can certainly watch this movie with ease.
The land of the Dead is envisioned as resembling a Mexican fiesta, not ghoulish at all. According to director Lee Unkrich, his inspiration was the city of Guanajuato, with its winding alleys and colorful homes stacked on top of rolling hills.
In my opinion, Guanajuato is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico, so Unkrich did right in using it as a model for this movie.
Also used for inspiration were Mexico City’s old trolleys and wrought-iron 19th century buildings like the National Mail Office and the Grand Hotel.
On the other hand, the fictional town where Miguel and his family live was inspired by countless villages in Oaxaca and Michoacan province, and it’s architecturally accurate in many ways. The streets are rough cobblestone, with vendors and people socializing in a central square. You can definitely get a feel for small-town, provincial Mexico.
I was also impressed by how well the people in the movie are portrayed. I think it’s the first time Pixar has animated more realistic-looking humans, and it does a pretty good job. Even the great-grandmother’s wrinkled old chin wiggles appropriately.
I’m no expert at this, so I don’t know how high “Coco” ranks in the technical scale, but the animation and the concept art are very good. It might not be breaking any ground, but I have no complaints in this department.
5. It might bring us closer together
At least in a small way.
Unlike the current political rhetoric, “Coco” presents Mexicans in a very different light. In the movie, Mexicans aren’t illegal immigrants, members of a drug cartel, or out to steal someone’s job. Instead, Mexicans are people you can know and love, with rich cultural traditions, dreams and hopes, just like anyone else.
But aside from politics, what I really liked about this movie is how it promotes family and heritage. These are things which Mexicans truly treasure, or anyone from any other background or nationality for that matter.
For example, Miguel can recognize his ancestors even in skeletal form because he knows who they are. And just like Miguel, my children also have knowledge of their roots and family history.
In the end, remembering your heritage is the purpose of the Day of the Dead, and that’s something anyone can take to heart.
Hopefully, you’ll come out of the movie theater wanting to know more about your own family and roots. Maybe you’ll want to talk to your parents and grandparents a little bit more.
This is the reason why people in Mexico kept lining up by the hundreds to watch “Coco”, even weeks after it was released. It spoke to us because family is always in our hearts, and I’m pretty sure it will speak to people around the world in the same way.
Of course I don’t think a movie can do anything to change what’s going in the world. I’m just glad “Coco” has managed to represent my Mexican culture in a loving, respectful way, which is extremely rare nowadays.
Thanks a lot for this, Pixar. All of Mexico has wholeheartedly forgiven you.
I hope you will all enjoy the movie as much as I did.