Coco written by Lee Unkrich and Jason Katz, directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina (Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar Animation Studios, PG, 105 min)
Starring Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach, Renee Victor, Jaime Camil, Herbert Siguenza.
My favorite thing about reading fiction? The ability to transport into the life of another human being. There’s something special about a novel’s internalized point of view that builds empathy for people too often labeled as “other.”
Visual storytelling is a little more difficult. Humans inherently read their unconscious biases into what they see. No matter how pious, virtuous, or philanthropical someone might be, too often a viewer can’t move beyond a skin tone.
This sad reality, from a business perspective, is what has pushed Hollywood to make movies focused on white males for most of the industry’s existence. The cycle self-fulfills as generations become used to a monochromatic presentation and then film executives—in an effort to avoid risk—keep green lighting the same kind of movies.
Sadly, this approach neglects this richness and extraordinary positions of culture outside the dominant white-male position Hollywood tends to prioritize.
And if Coco is any indication, such risk aversion is keeping audiences from seeing beautiful, well-crafted, and economically viable stories from different cultures. Empathy, as it turns out, is an important skill to gain.
All in the Family
Coco focuses on a family as they prepare for Dia de Muertos. Son, parents, grandparents, and a great grandparent live comfortably from the proceeds of the family cobbler business. The only catch? The family despises music. The great-great grandfather, you see, had a dream to be a famous musician. He left the family, never to return. And so, the family refuses to allow music in their life, come hell or high water.
But for young Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), this ban on music punishes his soul. He feels the call of a guitar and immortalizes Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), Mexico’s most famous musician.
Music Lights the Way
When Miguel learns of a talent show during Dia de Muertos, he hatches a plan to slip past his family and seize his musical dreams. Needing a guitar and believing his musician ancestor would approve, Miguel tries to steal a guitar from the grave of Ernesto de la Cruz only for a magical transformation to send him to the spirit world.
Here, he meets his ancestors and the fight over his desire to be a musician becomes a fight over his very soul.
For many, the notion of a day of the dead seems creepy, a Halloween-type holiday. And yet, Coco uses this tradition to illustrate the value of tradition and family. Miguel’s family pays respect to the people who paved a way for the lives of those living. We all are who we are because of the family that came before us, and yet I know I rarely think of my ancestors that traveled great distances to get to this side of the world. The people who toiled lands and established a little plot on this earth to call our own. Coco provides a window into a tradition unfamiliar to some, but it also promotes the universality of family. Well recommended.
Verdict: 4 out of 5