There is little room for doubt – Coco is a beautiful spectacle to behold. From the art direction to the writing to the music, Coco is packed with meticulous detail without ever losing sight of its heart or its Mexican roots. And while the visual aspects continue to raise the standard for both Pixar and Western animation alike, it’s the writing that strikes at the heart with its universal themes of death, family, and the importance of storytelling. Despite my best efforts to maintain my composure, I blubbered like a baby the first time I saw Coco. Thankfully I wasn’t alone, as the movie theatre filled up with sniffling noses and uncontrollable tears, some of which belonged to my friend Kim. Seeing her cry prompted my question,
“Isn’t this your fifth time watching Coco this month?”
But the repeated viewings did not make the story any less touching, nor the emotions any less real. For people like my friend Kim, who are both Mexican and in the animation industry, Coco represents one of the first massively mainstream pieces of media that truly celebrates Mexican culture – it’s been an incredible success at box offices around the world and especially in Mexico, where it is now the highest grossing movie of all time. To be able to see your history, your traditions, and your community reflected on the big screen is a privilege that’s slowly being offered to more marginalized groups of people, and it is truly an experience that everyone deserves to have.
“The first time I watched Coco, I was with my mother and sister and we all felt a resonance with it. I can’t speak for anyone else but for me it reminded me of what I remembered from my visits to Mexico, the Mexican movies I had grown up watching, and even my childhood. Being able to see something that is popular and that a lot of people outside of your culture has watched, liked, and even related to, is a wonderful feeling. Even more so after mostly seeing stories that I did connect to on some level but did not quite have the nuances for me to be to say “that’s me” or “that is true of my life.””
Coco has proven its ability to invoke the resonance Kim describes on a global scale, regardless of its audience’s ethnicity. But what makes Coco special to its Mexican viewers lies in its details and how the production staff thought carefully about each facet of the film. The team behind Coco took great pains to properly research the culture they wanted to portray; they visited Mexico on several occasions, hired a cultural consultant group, and pulled from the personal experiences of Mexican-American staff members working on the film such as Coco’s co-director, Adrian Molina. Other small details like purposely including Spanish in the dialogue between the characters – who are, after all, Mexican – serves to elevate Coco from a film that only uses Mexico as an aesthetic backdrop to a film that is intrinsically tied to Mexican culture in every aspect.
“The way they showed Mexican culture was spot on, like the way they left in Spanish nicknames that I had even been called variations of before. Things like that wouldn’t have translated properly into English. There were other things too: the characters had Mexican names that weren’t just the stereotypical ones, the star within the movie, Ernesto de la Cruz, and how he was treated resembles how a lot of real Mexican stars are treated, and the architecture and how they hid an incredible amount of skulls throughout the movie made it a delight to watch. Heck, there was one viewing where I even paid close attention to the eye colours, being in wonderment at the fact that the eyes of the characters reminded me of my family’s.”
And while Coco’s story cannot and should not be removed from its Mexican background, its themes transcend culture and touch the hearts of all who watch it. For Kim, one part of the film that hit close to home for her was how the familial relations were portrayed on screen.
“The importance of family in Mexican culture was depicted in a great way that really struck a chord with me and my own family, particularly for my dad and my grandmother who I went to go see Coco with on separate occasions. The storyline of the father who loved his child deeply and the relationship between Miguel and his great-grandmother affected them in ways that they could especially relate to. And yes, they cried too. Everyone I went to see Coco with cried along with me.”
Personally, the resonate message that Coco left with me long after I had left the movie theatre was one of the power of storytelling. Coco demonstrates how stories have a hand in carrying family legacies, forming communities, and ensuring that those who leave us never truly disappear. And in a metafictional sense, Coco itself has cemented its position in the cultural landscape as a story that people genuinely want to share with others as they watch it again and again.
“As for why I watched it five times, three of those times were taking different family members to go see it so that we could see a movie about us. The other two times were because a number of reasons. One, I thought that regardless of it being great representation of Mexican culture, it was a fantastic movie that I believed my friends would enjoy. Two, I wanted to make sure that I didn’t just think it was a good film because it was about my culture – and the result is that it’s a really good film that works because it was about my culture. And three, it felt like showing a bit of myself to the people I cared about. I could point up at the screen and tell them “that’s me.””