I’ve lived just a few miles from the Mexico border for a few years now, and while I’ve always looked at the colorful Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) merchandise for sale in Old Town San Diego with a sense of wonder, I admittedly never knew much about this fascinating Mexican holiday. With decorated skulls galore, I suppose I always viewed Day of the Dead items for sale as macabre, thinking they seemed like Halloween decorations as opposed to reminders of loved ones who have passed.
Along with my husband Mike and our ten year old daughter Addison, we were excited to see Disney PIXAR’s animated film Coco, in which the main character, Miguel Rivera, a young aspiring musician, visits the Land of the Dead. I expected to be entertained as I learned about Day of the Dead, but was in no way prepared for how the story would affect me.
Enamored with the late musician Ernesto de la Cruz’s music and films, Miguel yearns to follow in his footsteps, wanting to wow crowds with his guitar and suave voice. Much to Miguel’s dismay, his family absolutely forbids music. Stemming from a long line of shoemakers, Miguel is expected to follow in their footsteps, putting his own dreams aside because “family comes first.” Miguel knows the reason for his family’s aversion to music, but doesn’t understand why the family’s past must dictate his future.
As his family prepares for their Day of the Dead celebration, setting pictures of their ancestors out on their “ofrenda” (alter), Miguel is annoyed. Looking at old photographs of loved ones he never even met, Miguel’s indifference to the holiday is apparent. It is when he steals away, disobeying his parents and grandmother, that the movie takes a magical turn. Miguel, still very much alive, finds himself face to face with his ancestors in the Land of the Dead. As eager as they are to return to the Land of the Living for their special holiday, they know Miguel can’t be left behind; if he doesn’t return before sunrise, he too will permanently join the ranks of the deceased.
As his ancestors try to help him, Miguel ironically learns important life lessons from those who have ceased to live. I’m not going to lie. I cried. I didn’t just get teary. I full on cried. I had no idea how beautiful the whole concept of Day of the Dead is. It was Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco, for whom the movie is named, who really evoked a great deal of emotion from me. Coco lost her father when she was a little girl, and I found myself connecting to her because when I was three years old my mother died. Even though Coco is an old woman, she still very much carries the memories of her father close to her heart as she whispers his name again and again.
I absolutely loved the concept the movie drives home: As long as someone living still remembers you, you are never truly gone. As Miguel’s relatives put out offerings for their deceased loved ones next to their photographs on the ofrenda, I smiled and teared up imagining what offerings I’d leave for my own family members who’ve passed: a tall glass of root beer and a toothpick for my Pop-Pop, a deck of cards and crochet hooks for my Mom-Mom, and a golf ball and cigar for Grandpa. The whole idea that loved ones who have passed can visit once a year as long as they are remembered is so comforting, isn’t it?
Mike, like me, also cried. He didn’t just get teary. He full on cried. After the movie, he shared, “The colors in the movie are as bright and vibrant as anything you’d find in Old Town times a million. The story itself is emotional, and the animation is absolutely incredible. In my opinion, this is PIXAR’s greatest accomplishment to date. I’m eager to learn more about Day of the Dead, and know my next visit to Old Town will find me looking at the shops with a new found respect.”
Addie, who’s a chip off both her parents’ blocks, also cried. She didn’t just get teary. She full on cried. She said, “I loved it. I really liked the spirit guides and the music. I want to download the soundtrack.”
While some of the movie may go over younger children’s heads or flat out frighten them, the story itself is beautifully told and one that you’ll carry in your heart, just like you do the memories of those you’ve lost. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go grab a tissue and download the soundtrack. First song I’ll be sure to listen to: Remember Me.
Movie times: click here
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Directors: Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Actors: Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt
Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes
Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements