Coco is the new Disney/Pixar movie about a “12-year-old boy with big dreams,” says director Lee Unkrich. But I think it’s about so much more. It’s about a family and their traditions and rules for a boy who wants to play music, like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz, but his family won’t allow it. As with most great family traditions, there’s a lot of love. And this film has it!
In the movie Miguel’s actions allow him to visit the Land of the Dead on The Day of the Dead known as Día de Muertos. (Día de los Muertos.) Generations and generations of people who left our “Land of the Living” populate the parallel world. We meet Miguel’s ancestors who instantly recognize him and offer to help if he agrees to give up music forever. Music is something he isn’t ready to give up, so he joins a street-smart skeleton named Héctor to find Ernesto de la Cruz, who they think knows Miguel’s family history.
Being in the Southwest there’s a large Latino community. The bossy grandmother who insists you eat one- more- tamale might be your neighbor. The family business could be down the street. And Dia de los Muertos is celebrated every year right in the community. There’s something familiar in this beautifully told story. Storytelling is what makes a Disney/Pixar movie so memorable, and the details and music make it a must-see for families.
“Coco,” filmmakers wanted to immerse the audience in the culture that would anchor their story. The movie is marvelously illustrated and the music is fantastic. All different styles of Mexican music are represented in Coco. Filmmakers wanted to ensure that the film’s music was genuine, and authenticity was important. They used footage of musicians as the reference and it showed. It felt like the musician’s love oozed out into Miguel’s heart. Santa Cecilia was inspired by villages visited by the filmmakers during research trips and look like places I have been.
The universal theme of family resonated with the filmmakers and with me. “We are all part of a family,” says co-director and screenwriter Adrian Molina. “Those relationships are beautiful and complicated. But our family shapes who we are, which made us wonder—if you had an opportunity to meet your ancestors, what would you recognize in them that you see in yourself?”
I often think of my grandmother when I’m in the kitchen or when I turn on my favorite soap opera General Hospital, but I never knew her grandmother. I sleep under my husband’s grandmother’s threadbare handmade quilt. Her relatives signed each square, but we never knew them.
If I could go visit them I would.
Dia De Los Muertos teaches us that the dead can only visit if someone remembers them when someone displays their picture.
Who would remember me?
What stories would be passed down?
As a cancer survivor, I think about death a lot. More then most I’m sure. I recognized a common need to be remembered and to feel that we’ll matter long after our death. But as a culture, we don’t talk about death much. Here we see sugar skulls and fancy decorated skeletons but the afterlife isn’t something we discuss.
There’s a strong desire to keep the memories of our loved ones alive. By sharing their stories, we build connections across generations. If you are taking children to see Coco, I suggest you talk about family traditions and Día De Los Muertos. That way they have an idea of what Miguel’s family celebrates. This is the perfect time of year for this. Build a gingerbread house or cook a pot of matzo ball soup and talk about those who have come before you. Then load up the car and take them to see Coco. Introduce them to this young singer, a guitarist who dreams of following in the footsteps of the most famous musician in the history of Mexico. You will learn why Miguel’s family forbids music. Discover why his great-great-grandmother and great-great-grandfather had different dreams. (She wanted to raise their family in Santa Cecilia, but he dreamed of being a musician.) From generation to generation, great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda’s ban on music is firmly enforced. Think of the movie Footloose if dancing was banned a few more generations. Miguel feels like he has to choose between his love of music and his love for his family. To me, this is another teachable moment. What do you love and how can it be shared with others?
When I was in Disneyland for Dapper Day I was treated to a sneak peek of Coco, and now thanks to D23 I got to see a screening. However, neither was showing Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the short before the film, so I am sure I will see Coco again. Besides I need to look for Easter Eggs.
I have snacks ready! Who wants to go?
Disney•Pixar’s “Coco” opens in U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, 2017.
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