Big movie. Bright colors. Beautiful score. Brilliant animation.
Let’s start with story today. One of the reasons Pixar has become such a huge company is their absolute dedication to story, or so I’ve been told. I have to admit I haven’t been disappointed so far. This story, however, was interesting as I felt like I knew what was going to happen the whole time, but it was still a twist. I wasn’t surprised, I guess, when Miguel found out who his dad was. But I appreciated it. It was better for the story. I will say it threw me off the first time Miguel comes back to this side of the bridge. I was like, hang on, that was way too easy. But then he’s back a few seconds later and boom, we’re off.
I do think it is interesting how long his family had been there in the land of the dead and didn’t know the truth. I guess I would have expected some of the class order and societal rules to die along with the body, but that was not so. I also found it a little unbelievable at first that de la Cruz had no idea about/so readily accepted Miguel’s existence. But, had that arc played out, it became very clear he would have spent his time on our side hanging out with whoever was throwing him the biggest party and not looking after his family. He also (not that I saw this in the film, just based on character) may have had children that would ever know him, if you know what I mean. But lo and behold that didn’t last long and Miguel ended up with the family that he could be truly proud of.
I also love, love, love the title. Why? BECAUSE IT HAS NOTHING AND EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE MOVIE. I actually read an article earlier i which Miguel was mistakenly called Coco, probably because that would have made “sense”. Coco is not a huge player at the beginning. She’s the namesake of the film, but why? She’s an old lady who misremembers her family’s names and could quite possibly die during the movie. But, hang on, isn’t the movie about death and remembering family? I did a quick Google Translate on “coco” and it turns out the word means coconut (shocker), but can also refer to the brain (memories), and the bogeyman and the like, fantastical creatures whose stories and legends are used to teach and train and spook children. Perfect.
Ok, on to the animation. I have a great deal of respect for animators. I remember watching the specials at the end of my Disney VHSs as a kid and marveling at how long the plates for Bambi and The Jungle Book took to paint. When I went to school and worked side-by-side with animators on projects you could tell they loved it. One time we spent, what, eight hours straight one night on a paper puppet piece before realizing we should probably eat and sleep at some point. What we did that weekend lasts only a few seconds. When I watch a full-length animated feature like Coco I can’t help but marvel at how much time and sweat and how many tears must have gone into it.
The way the City looks on screen almost takes my breath away. I don’t know how to explain it. It looks so alive. Everything is lit from within, and I think that is a beautiful reflection of the fact how you are on the inside is what really shows through in the end. If you love your family and take care of one another that internal radiance will make you shine even when there is no sun. If all you care about is yourself, then you get crushed by a bell. Twice. And who wants that? It’s even in the BIble: “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:22-23) and “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
If you know me then it will come as no shock to you that I am very white. I have a little Native American and just enough african to make my hair curl (three cheers for genetics) but I’m mostly a european mutt. I don’t really have much knowledge of the mesoamerican cultures beyond the Aztecs were insanely brilliant and the whole continent seems to love bright colors. I don’t believe this really affected my appreciation for the display of ritual and tradition in the movie. I could tell how important everything was even though I have never personally experienced Dia de Muertos. The animated reverence was enough to carry the point across, and I think that is a very important thing for a good story to be able to do. A good story should require minimal background while being deep enough to allow for those who know more to still appreciate it. I have read a few articles that seem to support Coco as being a good enough story for both sides.
Finally, alebrijes. In Coco alebrijes are presented as spirit guides. This specific type of Mexican folk art is actually less than 100 years old (coined in the 1930s) but has spread like wildfire. The idea of a spirit animal being associated with you and being a guide in this world and the next is not new, however, and I believe that if they did exist they would be pretty brightly colored. Colors bring life and excitement and hope and encouragement and I think the animated alebrijes presented in the movie are pretty great. I may even draw one, so keep an eye on Instagram. I’ll be using the links posted at the end to get some basic ideas. (You should try it! Draw and post and tag me and we can compare 😉 Be sure to scroll through some images on Google or Pintrest or what have you to get an idea of colors and patterns that strike your fancy, too.)
Overall, the glowing city, jolting skeletons, eager protagonist and the threads of family put together a pretty good movie. The story did not have as many unanticipated twists and turns as I usually like, but there were enough to keep it from being boring. Coco’s transformation at having someone join in her memories of her beloved papa warmed my heart. The family learning that remembering is better than forgetting, that forgiving is better than spreading bitterness, is a good message to be sure. Also the fact that Miguel’s mom was so obviously pregnant and a baby didn’t just conveniently appear for him to pass values on to was pretty great. I do wonder if he was ever tempted to steal from the dead again to go back and visit, or if he was content to live out his life on this side, knowing that he would soon see his family again. Either way, he seemed at peace with his future, and that is a blessing I think we all ask for.
(Also did de la Cruz die again or is he doomed to live the rest of his death in a bell?)
Mayan Spirit Animal (actually based on the Mayan calendar)
No, I don’t believe in spirit animals leading your soul into the next world. I do believe it is fun to create and draw brightly colored creatures.