Coco: A Visit to the Land of the Dead

THE CELEBRATION OF A LIFETIME. 

The world premiere of Coco took place in Morelia, Mexico, not Hollywood. During the making of the film, Pixar’s talents went south of the border to learn more about the culture and folk art, to find the right inspiration and local color for their tale about the Day of the Dead and how it is celebrated. This approach and sensitivity to other cultures is slowly becoming more common in Tinseltown.

That said, Disney also made a failed attempt to trademark the phrase ”Día de los Muertos”, which is Hollywood at its worst. Coco is nevertheless enchanting and deeply moving.

Miguel Rivera is growing up in a small Mexican town surrounded by a family of shoemakers. His beloved abuelita hates music and makes sure her grandson stays far away from mariachis. The problem though is that Miguel loves music and wants to become an artist; he secretly idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, a famous musician who became the most successful artist in the country until he was killed in a bell-tower-related accident. Miguel’s family won’t hear of it, but after realizing that he must be related to de la Cruz he decides to enter a talent show that takes place during the Day of the Dead festivities. He breaks into de la Cruz’s mausoleum, steals his guitar… and becomes invisible. Shockingly, he can be seen only by his deceased relatives who take him to the Land of the Dead.

Impossible not to fall in love
Another year, another magnificent Pixar film. At first, one isn’t sure where the filmmakers will take us as we get to know the Rivera family and try to get used to the slapstick antics of the walking skeletons Miguel encounters in the Land of the Dead. And when we do get a grip on the story, some of it seems very familiar with a twist, a villain and moments that are bound to wring tears, usually for nostalgic reasons.

But who cares? It is damn near impossible not to fall in love with this movie that echoes such fine Pixar predecessors as Toy Story 2 (1999), Up (2009), the director’s own Toy Story 3 (2010) and Inside Out (2015). These are all movies that made me literally laugh, cry and ponder my own childhood, the importance of family and the role love plays in your life. These are themes that keep reappearing in one way or another in Pixar films and even if there’s the occasional Cars sequel that fails to engage us emotionally, even if there’s talk about John Lasseter’s inappropriate behavior toward women, it does feel like the studio knows how to generate the right atmosphere for movies like Coco to get made. Technically speaking, there are no complaints. The culture of the Day of the Dead festivities is colorfully captured in 3D and the Land of the Dead, with its skeletal population, comes alive in vibrant and amusing ways.

Michael Giacchino’s music score is bursting with Mexican sounds, and the pivotal song ”Remember Me” (first introduced as de la Cruz’s most famous hit, but latterly the emotional key to getting Miguel’s family reunited) sticks like glue, in a positive way.

Before Christmas last year, I had my parents’ old home movies from the 1970s and slides digitalized, enabling myself and my family to have these memories more easily available (and copied for safety reasons). Coco beautifully illustrates the very human need to keep photos and mementos of loved ones. There will always come a day when you’ll want to take out photos and remember someone you’ve lost. This film cleverly reminds its audience of that, highlighting the emotional Mexican tradition of creating an ofrenda, a ritual altar in three tiers dedicated to your loved one.

Coco 2017-U.S. Animated. 109 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Darla K. Anderson. Directed by Lee Unkrich. Screenplay: Adrian Molina, Matthew Aldrich. Music: Michael Giacchino. Song: ”Remember Me” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez). Voices of Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel Rivera), Gael García Bernal (Héctor Rivera), Benjamin Bratt (Ernesto de la Cruz), Alanna Ubach, Renée Victor, Ana Ofelia Murguía… Edward James Olmos, Cheech Marin, John Ratzenberger.

Golden Globe: Best Animated Motion Picture. BAFTA: Best Animated Film.

Last word: “Adrian being Mexican-American himself has a lot of pride in having been a vital part of the making of this film. We all feel a lot of pride for how we depicted Mexican culture and the Latino community but I know that Adrian particularly does. For myself, not being somebody who is Latino, if I had messed up and gotten it wrong I would have gotten everything that I deserved; for Adrian, being Mexican-American himself, it would have been that much worse. He has enormous pride in this film. He wanted to work on it from the moment I started talking about wanting to make it and I’m so glad he rose through the ranks and became a part of it.” (Unkrich, Den of Geek)

 

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