I’ve wanted to watch this Disney animated film since seeing clips of it at this year’s Academy Awards. This evening I settled into my chair, ear buds in place, and enjoyed Coco on my laptop via Amazon rentals.
Coco features the voices of Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor and Ana Ofelia Murguia. This animated adventure, directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, is rated PG and has a run time of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Coco was nominated for two Oscars, Best Original Song “Remember Me” and Best Animated Feature Film. It won in both categories.
Miguel (Gonzalez) is a 12 year boy living in a small Mexican town with his large extended family. He aspires to be a musician, like the legendary performer Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt), who died tragically while at the height of his career. The only problem is, Miguel’s family has banned music from their household.
Miguel has heard the story often. His great great grandmother, Imelda (Ubach), was left to raise her young daughter Coco (Murguia) alone after her husband left them to offer his music to the world. She vowed that music and singing would never be heard in her family again, as it had cast a curse. To support herself and her daughter Imelda opens a shoe making business, which is passed down each generation, and grows as the family grows.
Coco is now a very old woman whose memory is fading. She occasionally asks for her papa, even though he has been gone for many many years. On the Day of the Dead, the family is preparing to honor their ancestors by placing their photos on display. The family portrait of Imelda and Coco has had the face of the musician torn away. When the framed photo is knocked over and breaks, Miguel unfolds the rest of the picture and recognizes the guitar of Ernesto de la Cruz, the man he wants most to be like. He realizes Ernesto must be his great great grandfather.
Miguel decides to seize the moment and against his family’s wishes, he leaves to enter a talent contest. His grandmother Elena (Victor) destroyed his homemade guitar, so he must find another. In a daring move, Miguel breaks into Ernesto’s mausoleum in the cemetery and “borrows” the guitar on display. Immediately Miguel becomes invisible to the living and is transported to the Land of the Dead, as a punishment for taking the guitar.
Miguel meets his family members who have died, including his great great grandmother Imelda. They are horrified that he, a living boy, is among them. And Imelda is outraged that her great great grandson wants to be a musician. She has never forgiven her husband for choosing music over his family. Imelda tries to send Miguel home with a blessing, but she makes a stipulation…the boy must never play music or sing again.
Miguel refuses to accept her condition and escapes from his family. He goes in search of his musical ancestor, Ernesto, feeling certain his blessing will allow him to return home and become a musician. As he searches for Ernesto, Miguel meets the charming trickster Hector (Bernal), and enlists his help. Hector promises to get the boy to Ernesto if he will carry back a photo of him. Hector cannot visit the Land of the Living because no one there displays his picture on the Day of the Dead. If his daughter forgets him, as she appears to be doing, then Hector will fade away. He longs to see his child one more time.
After many attempts to locate the famous Ernesto, the pair finally tracks him down. He is amazed and delighted to discover he has a great great grandson who wants to be a musician. However, Miguel finds out there are mysteries in his family’s past, and he uncovers a dark secret that changes everything. He has until daybreak to secure his blessing and be sent back home, or he will become a permanent resident in the Land of the Dead.
This was a well done film that beautifully captures the culture of another country and focuses on the importance of traditions. There are sub stories woven through the movie about following your passion and about discovering the larger story and one’s place in it.
I laughed aloud over some of Hector’s antics. And teared up more than once when poignant moments tugged at my heart. Overall, this is a story about family and the ways the members are connected, both among the living and among the dead. I loved the portrayal that those who have passed, or crossed over, are very aware of their family members who still live and come to be among them. Love does not die although over time, memories fade and the stories about those who lived before are no longer told and passed down to younger generations.
I saw in this movie the power of a vow made in anger and the effects of blessings and curses on a family. I see the same in reality…generations impacted by one family member’s long ago vow, or fearful encounter, or optimistic perspective on life. Families can appear cursed, or blessed, based on an ancestor’s experience.
Watching the movie I felt gratitude for my own ancestors. I have photos, on display, of some of them. I recognized that I am keeping their stories alive and in remembering them, I am preventing them from slipping away. I also realized the importance of hearing stories from my mother and passing those tales on to my children and grandchildren so that for a time, those dear departed ones will live on in our hearts. I need to tell my stories too, and listen to the stories of my family members, so that there are new voices to take up the narratives and fresh hearts to be the keepers of memories.
Coco is a fun film, with much deeper messages to think about, making it one of my favorite types of movies.