‘Coco’ is vibrant celebration of diversity

Walt Disney Studios/Courtesy
Walt Disney Studios/Courtesy

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Grade: 4.5/5.0

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect for Disney/Pixar’s newest film. “Coco,” Pixar’s first original film since “The Good Dinosaur” in 2015, is set to release the Wednesday before Thanksgiving — almost exactly one year after President Donald Trump’s election. These facts are more than just incidental. “Coco” offers a welcome breath of fresh air in terms of cultural representation, and the morals at the film’s heart offer much-needed positivity — the importance of the family and the concept that differences should never divide us.

The narrative of “Coco” follows a young boy named Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), who dreams of one day being a musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel’s family, however, has a strict no-music policy after Miguel’s great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was abandoned by an anonymous musician years ago. Miguel laments that his family must be the only one in Mexico that hates music, and it is his incredible passion that prompts him into drastic action — stealing a guitar from the mausoleum of de la Cruz himself. Stealing from the dead on Día de los Muertos, however, is a foolhardy mistake, and it prompts an accidental trip into the land of the dead. The rest of the film chronicles Miguel’s attempts to make his way back home and receive his family’s blessing.

“Coco” positions a confrontation between generations at its very core. The older generation’s values are in direct contest with those of a younger generation —  yet the film’s conclusion provides a happy compromise. This is a deeply important concept for the throngs of young fans that will fill the theaters in the weeks to come. Although not a direct call to action, the film stresses peaceful conflict resolution, a welcome concept in a country that is becoming more and more polarized.

The mentality that young generations can facilitate change is both incredibly optimistic and empowering.

The film is undeniably beautiful. Even in the land of the dead, the city seems alive with breathtaking skyscrapers, and it bustles with a constant energy. The land of the dead is never scary, and the film is filled with gentle reminders that what is unknown or unfamiliar doesn’t have to be demonized. From the golden marigold petals that form the bridge between the two worlds to the film’s opening sequence told entirely by animated papel picado, “Coco” succeeds in painting a visually stunning world.

While breathtaking to look at, the film also makes references to a much more dire reality. The border that separates the living from the dead in “Coco” is undeniably a much friendlier place than the one that exists between the United States and Mexico. The film, however, doesn’t shy away from making a clear critique of strict regulations between boarders. Héctor (Gael García Bernal), a skeleton who is unable to cross the border to see his daughter, is forced into various disguises in his attempts to see his family one last time. Although at times comedic, Héctor is incredibly desperate and entirely motivated out of love for his family. In a country currently instituting stricter and stricter policies on immigration, it is not difficult to imagine real-life tragedies that follow this narrative. If members of the audience weep for an animated skeleton, why not for the countless real families that face these restrictions?

Perhaps one of the more memorable moments of the film happens when Mamá Imelda finally re-embraces the enchanting power of music and treats a crowded concert arena to a stunning aria sung entirely in Spanish. Characters often speak words or simple phrases in Spanish, and the context of the situation is enough to provide understanding. Most songs are a combination of Spanish and English, so it’s important that Mamá Imelda’s serenade is the only song in the film that’s entirely in Spanish. Subtitles are never offered at any point, but this is part of the film’s genius — no translation is needed. The message here seems abundantly clear: Even if we do not entirely understand something, it is still easy to appreciate and accept its beauty.

The songs in “Coco,” true to film’s central message, are powerful. Beautiful and optimistic, they have the ability to change the minds of the characters in the film and hopefully members of the audience. One can only hope that the film’s most popular track,“Remember Me,” will grow to be as prolific as “Let It Go” and that Disney/Pixar continues to articulate messages of diversity and acceptance in its future films.

Contact Sarah Alford at [email protected].