By Mimi Pollack
The Disney/Pixar companies have redeemed themselves after the 2013 debacle of requesting to trademark “Dia de los Muertos.” By hiring a mostly Latino cast and working extensively with Latino consultants, the result is an absolute win with their new film, “Coco.”
“Coco” works on many levels. First, it’s a delightful children’s movie with beautiful and colorful animation, lively music, and sight gags to please little tykes. It’s also an educational film, introducing to audiences who don’t know, the meaning and traditions of Dia de Los Muertos — a cultural, sometimes religious, spiritual, and familial holiday in Mexico and Latin America.
November 1 and 2 are days that many families visit cemeteries and/or build altars in their homes, decorating them with pictures of the deceased, flowers, candles, food, etc. The movie can bring about a discussion between Anglos and Latinos, who tend to have very different views of death and the afterlife.
It’s also a movie for adults, as it touches upon themes of abandonment, the pain of vindictiveness and how refusing to forgive can affect generations to come, and how cutthroat people can be to achieve fame — even supposed beloved celebrities. It also references and gently makes fun of Latino icons, such as Frida Kahlo. I thought the revered singer in the movie — Ernesto de La Cruz — bore a striking resemblance to the late, great Jorge Negrete, a Mexican singer and actor during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema.
Finally, who knew Benjamin Bratt and Gael García Bernal could sing? Their voices and duets were a pleasant surprise as were the music and key song, “Remember Me.”
“Coco” is about 12-year-old boy Miguel, voiced by talented newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, whose family are shoemakers and, because of an incident that happened long ago, has forbidden music in their home. However, music is in Miguel’s genes and his idol is the late great fictional singer, Ernesto de la Cruz.
Miguel finds an old family photo and because of the guitar in the picture, thinks de la Cruz is his great-great Grandfather. Coco is also the name of Miguel’s great grandmother, who sits quietly in a world of her own, while his grandmother fiercely rules the roost, denying all music in the household.
There is a surprise ending which I won’t spoil here. But by the time Miguel finds out the truth, he’s had many adventures in the living world, as well as accidentally crossing over to the spirit world where he meets many of his ancestors and their spirit guides. He also meets his great-great grandfather and finds out why music has been prohibited in his house. That spirit has a very touching scene with Coco when he comes back to the living world.
It’s also a pleasure to see how many well known Latino performers participated in the movie. Besides Bratt and García Bernal, San Diego’s own Herbert Siguenza plays the dual roles of Miguel’s dead uncles, Tío Oscar and Tío Felipe, as well as being a cultural consultant on the film. Other people of note include Luis Valdez, Cheech Marin, Alfonso Arau, Renée Victor, Jaime Camil, Gabriel Iglesias, and Edward James Olmos to name a few, giving Coco quite a pedigree.
The movie is codirected by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. It’s in wide release in San Diego and some movie theaters are showing it in English and Spanish versions.