How ‘Coco’ Respectfully Illustrates Mexican Culture

Pixar’s latest film Coco was recently released on November 22, 2017 right before the big holiday weekend following in suit of some of it’s predecessors such as Frozen, The Good Dinosaur and more. Like most Disney fans, I was very excited to see what new emotional roller coaster Pixar has worked up for me.  As if stamping Disney across this project wasn’t enough to get my attention, the Dia de los Muertos – Day of the Dead – backstory had me on edge counting down for its release. I’ve always had a fascination for the Mexican tradition, especially the colorful sugar skull designs so often associated with it. I was a little unsure how this could be intertwined with a classic Pixar story-line which made getting in line to watch the morning’s first screening on Thanksgiving Day that much more thrilling.

Coco has a traditional tween self-discovery storyline in the sense that the protagonist, Miguel, has dreams and urges to play music disregarding his family’s strict rule against it – à la Little Mermaid forbidden from going on land and Moana banned from venturing out to sea. Without giving away too much, Miguel goes against his family’s wishes and attempts to steal his music idol’s guitar to enter a local talent contest. Like most kids around that age, Miguel is looking for his calling and purpose. Unfortunately for him, every fiber of his being is pulling him towards music which finds him in quite the pickle with his familia. Stealing the guitar from the deceased idol leads to Miguel being cursed to the afterlife where he needs to receive a blessing from a family member before the end of the Dia de los Muertos celebration. One small catch – his family’s blessing comes with the condition that he could never play music again. Miguel goes on an adventure through the afterlife looking for a specific family member – who shall not be named – who would gladly bless him unconditionally.

What set’s Coco apart from the rest is simple – the value of family and life itself. I shouldn’t be surprised this theme was so prevalent throughout the film as the Hispanic culture is rich in family values and traditions. I myself am Cuban which although has many differences also has many similarities with the Mexican culture. This movie really hit home for me on another level especially the heart wrenching ending which had me crying like a baby – possibly more than any other Pixar movie. With taglines like “Seize Your Moment” and songs titled “Remember Me”, you can understand why Miguel feels empowered to follow his dreams in order to leave behind his own legacy. Pixar has once again created an unexpected twist which discredits and changes the meaning of everything Miguel believed in. As we see time and time again, intentions are never what they initially seem in most Pixar movies. By the end, Coco reminds you to prioritize what’s really important in life – your family. The most important impact you can leave behind in life is your legacy with your family which can live on and passed down for generations. As depicted in the movie, you definitely DON’T want to be forgotten…

On a much more upbeat note, the music from Coco is absolutely fantastic. The beautiful Spanish banda and mariachi style music is heavy in strings and brass with powerful vocals. Quite a bit of the soundtrack is written in spanish which like other romance languages evoke emotion and heart. My only concern watching throughout the film was the lack of subtitles. As a bilingual individual it didn’t affect me much but to a non-Spanish speaker it may deter them. One of my favorite songs in the movie, La Llorana, was completely in Spanish and sang during a pivotal scene of the movie. Although it doesn’t translate to anything affecting the scene, I hope it doesn’t take away from the average moviegoers experience. All in all, this soundtrack will have you dancing in your seat wanting to plan your next party.

Combine the soundtrack, gorgeous graphics, humor and storyline, and you have a new Disney favorite on your hands. Unlike Up, which was criticized for being too “adult” and serious for children, the topic of death although present in Coco is subtle and not alarming for small children. Instead kids are thrown into a bright land of colors and spiritual beings who protect one another. Pixar really outdid themselves with the landscapes in this movie. For being the afterlife ridden with death, the art was extremely lively and the colors deeply saturated. This goes hand in hand with the way the afterlife is traditionally seen in mexico. It’s celebrated rather than feared. The humor is grade A with the majority of the moments coming from the typical Disney recipe sidekick played by Dante, a hairless Mexican Xolo dog. You will fall in love with him and his silly antics and faces all the while staying by Miguel’s side throughout his race against the clock.

Considering America’s current position regarding political correctness and cultural appropriation, I would say this movie came out in a rather interesting time. When this project commenced, I highly doubt the writers, director and animators had any idea what was to come as for our society’s current state. Sure Disney got a few slaps on the wrist  like when they tried to trademark “Dia De Los Muertos” , but what Disney has released has broken records in Mexico, received critical acclaim for staying true to the depicted Mexican culture and traditions, and will surely go on to become a classic.

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