Some critics may suggest that Coco is not one of Pixar’s best, or that it’s cute but kind of “meh.” But for me, Coco was deeply personal, it hit every single one of my emotional buttons, and has absolutely dethroned Wall-E as my favorite Pixar movie. So many elements were spot on and capture our culture so beautifully. I was blown away by it all that I just wish I had had a notebook and pen on me to remember everything from my first viewing. Oh, yes…there will be follow-up viewings. Here’s what made the movie personal, what stood out, and what I learned. Mild spoilers ahead and one big spoilers at the end.
My Very Own Coco
I was so lucky to be able to watch this with my very own Coco. Only those closest to my mom have called her Coco since she was a child. Her name isn’t even Socorro. The story goes that my grandfather asked that she be named Socorro. So, my grandmother named her something else to spite him. He called her Coco anyway and everyone else followed, including my dad, who grew up on the same block she did. When my kids were toddlers, they followed grandpa’s lead and yelled out “Cocooo!” when they needed her. They still call her Mama Coco (they pronounce it without an accent on the a) when they greet her and refer to her as Mi Coco when they speak to someone else about her. I hope my kids get to see their Coco reach old age just like the character in the movie.
My parents happen to be from Leon, Guanajuato, a Mexican city known for its shoemaking tradition and craft that have been passed on from generation to generation. Statues have been erected and songs have been written in honor of the city’s main industry. And, much like the Riveras, everyone in Leon has a zapatero/a in the family. Like Mamá Imelda in the movie, my grandmother was a single mom who raised eleven children on a shoemaker’s wage. Some of her children earned their first paycheck in a shoe factory while others made a lifelong living in the industry.
I can’t believe Pixar included the almighty chancla! Every single part of la chancla’s brief appearance is spot on. From the way la Abuelita manages to glide la chancla off her foot while keeping her balance, to the way she threatens a grown man with it, to the way she expertly aims it at a barking dog, to the way she orders her grandchild to retrieve it. So much hilarious perfection here.
Coco’s illustrators made it a point to give us a rich close-up of Miguel’s homemade guitar and seeing the details on its neck made me smile. This little boy used nails as frets and hand-drew an intricate pattern to match the one on his idol’s guitar. The guitar is a symbol of Mexican ingenuity – those Mexicanadas that we so often joke about but are a shining example of how our people will always come up with a way to make things work.
The World of the Dead
I don’t believe in heaven or hell and my immigrant parents did not observe Dia de Muertos until recently so this concept of the world of the dead is relatively new to me. But, the idea that our loved ones move on to the other side, where our memories serve as their lifeline and determine their level of comfort, is one that I can certainly embrace and teach my children about. No need for religious dogma or complex, unanswerable questions about death and the afterlife. The simple idea that our deceased loved ones will continue to live as long as we remember them is enough for me.
Any Mexican worth their Pancho Pantera recognized Ernesto de la Cruz as a stand-in for Pedro Infante. But then, THEN Pedro Infante himself appeared in calaca form with Jorge Negrete and I just about lost my mind. Of course they would be there along with Frida Kahlo, Cantinflas, and El Santo! They all hang out together in the world of the dead! And Frida is still making super weird art. Ha! Did I miss Diego Rivera?
How refreshing to hear a soundtrack avoid the stereotypical maracas or clichéd musical choices (please, no more Jarabe Tapatio playing behind scenes of dusty Mexican plazas!) The film’s signature song, Remember Me, takes on various forms throughout the story but it most reminded me of the boleros that always get me right in the heart. Un Poco Loco gave me the same bouncy feeling I get when I listen to a son jarocho. And, with it’s dreamy marimba opening, Crossing the Marigold Bridge, just made me burst with pride.
Big spoiler below. Do not read any further if you haven’t seen the movie.
The checkpoint between this world and the world of the dead, its characters, and its procedures give us some of the film’s most captivating scenes. But for those of us who have ever crossed la linea, it was a clear allusion to the immigration policies that keep our families separated between aquí y el otro lado. There’s a moment at the end of the movie that I don’t know how animators were able to illustrate so precisely. When Hector finally gets cleared to visit this world, he proceeds in excited disbelief, steps on the marigold bridge and pauses briefly to make sure this is really happening. I’ve been in and witnessed that moment several times. It’s the same moment you experience when you finally cross the border, with full papers in hand, and hold your breath until you know you’re no longer in danger of being denied entry.
If you haven’t already seen Coco, I highly recommend you watch it soon. And then watch it in Spanish. And bring your ama, apa, abuela, abuelo, tias, tios, ninas, and ninos. And then buy the BluRay or DVD and watch it every November. It’s THAT special.