What could possibly be scary about a movie featuring a town full of skeletons celebrating something called the Day of the Dead? Quite a lot, according to the 5-year old who wasn’t keen to go see it. The 8 and 10-year olds were excited though, having recently enjoyed another film ‘The Book of Life’ (2014), which had taught them about the Dia de los Meurtos, a Mexican holiday. A day to celebrate, remember and prepare special foods in honour of friends and family who have died.
There are certainly similarities between the Disney Pixar film ‘Coco’ and ‘The Book of Life’, which was released by 20th Century Fox. Both movies are based around Mexican culture and tradition, both are about living characters who venture into the Land of the Dead, and music plays a huge component in each story. There has been criticism from some that ‘Coco’ is too similar, that the big Disney Studio is copying the little guy and that ‘The Book of Life’ had several Mexican producers and animators which Disney Pixar did not. Pixar did reassure critics though by using a cast of all Latinos, and forming a team of cultural consultants. Plenty of people are also happy just to have more films about non-American culture, which in the time of Trump has got to be a good thing.
‘Coco’ tells the adventure of 12-year-old Miguel (newcomer Anthony Gonzales), an aspiring musician who lives in the fictional Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt), the most famous musician in Mexican history and his village’s hero. This dream is in direct conflict with his disapproving family of cobblers, who have banned music from the house since his great-great-grandfather chose a music career over life with the family. The succeeding generations have never forgiven him. Miguel must hide his natural talent, but whenever he can, Miguel slips away to watch and rewatch tapes of de la Cruz’s movies, teaching himself to play on a homemade guitar. After being discovered and having his guitar shattered by his grandmother, Miguel rejects his family and sets out to disobey their decision, winding up further from home than he could have imagined: in the land of the dead. Once there he meets up with an intriguing character Hector (Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
The film’s themes about family are movingly presented. ‘Coco’ is a reminder of the ways family and legacy influence us. Miguel comes to learn what it really means to sacrifice everything in pursuit of a dream. Coming face-to-face with the people who were left behind in the Land of the Dead, he sees that he won’t be the only one paying the cost. Some dreams are worth fighting for, but there are worse fates than learning to compromise. What matters is who remembers you when you’re gone, why they remember you, and how.
The Land of the Dead is depicted as far from a threatening or dismal place (although the 5yo was still apprehensive to look at the screen due to the number of skeletons). It’s more like a holiday resort, a city full of parties, shows and vibrant animal spirit guides. The wonderful references to Mexican culture and art complement the story. The movie’s music is brilliantly done, one particular song ‘Remember Me” pulls at all the heart strings. Everything comes together to produce an enjoyable yet moving family film. The only two cautions are that parts of it may make you cry, and if your child doesn’t like skeletons it’s not a wise move to take them.
Rating: PG Parental Guidance Recommended.