México is a country deeply rich in cultural traditions and history. Pixar understands, respects, and celebrates this in Coco. I say that as a film critic and as a Mexican.
Honestly, I was skeptical about the film because it is the second animated film (Book of Life, 2014) based aesthetically and thematically on Día de los Muertos. Additionally, in 2013 Disney attempted to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Muertos” for possible title purposes [http://edition.cnn.com/2013/05/10/us/disney-trademark-day-dead/]. Culturally, there is so much more to México than just this holiday, so I feared that it would be culturally reductionistic and exploitative. However, Coco is as much about folklore and traditions as it is an honest, heartfelt story about the importance of family.
But don’t just take my word for it – in less than a month Coco has become the highest grossing film in México.
Pixar’s Coco is the sixth feature-length, directorial credit for Lee Unkrich and the first for Adrian Molina. The screen play, written by Molina, is deeply contextual. Audiences familiar with Mexican culture will enjoy the inside jokes. Yet, the humor is done in such a way that it works on many levels for different audiences. Even those not familiar with the culture will be able to enjoy it.
The level of detail in every aspect of the film is astonishing. The massive amount of research done by Pixar is evident from the holiday aesthetics, to Mexican architecture, to the look of the characters, the history of popular music and other types of Mexican art, to the historical celebrities. Even the protagonist’s pet is incredibly true to the real life inspiration! That list could go on and on, but enough of that.
In Coco, 12 year-old Miguel finds his family’s traditional stance towards music at odds with his dream of being like his idol, the greatest Mexican singer ever, Ernesto de la Cruz. In an attempt to seize his moment to follow his dream, Miguel and his loyal companion, his stray dog, Dante, find themselves going on an adventure into the world of the dead.
In terms of story, Coco does not shy away from an issue that is common in many cultures – single parent families. The particular dynamic of an absent father figure is very important to the story. As a result we are able to see some of the layers and roles of the traditional Mexican family structure. One of my favorite roles explored in Coco is that of the loving, strong, respected, and sometimes domineering matriarchs. In this aspect, Coco admires the resiliency of Mexican women, and celebrates the importance of family. Through his journey Miguel learns that family is very important, but a reconciled family is even better. There is healing in Coco, healing of generational wounds, healing that restores, and redeems. Healing with the power to bring families closer together.
I think I can say this for the majority of Mexicans who have watched Coco and liked it – Pixar, you’ve made us proud. Gracias!