There are three things to keep in mind when you are going to view a Pixar movie.
- You will cry. There’s no way around it, try as you might. It’s what they do over at Pixar Studios. Their life force depends on your tears.
- It will speak to you differently than it speaks to others. Your takeaway will always be something else compared to anyone else you talk to.
- You will be visually pleased and left ready for the next project that Pixar is working on.
So as I headed to the theater to see Coco, I kept those three things in mind and ready to be objective when it came to this review. What I did not expect, was to be so deeply touched and to still be sitting in my seat, credits rolling, silently crying as every other moviegoer exited the theater.
Latinx movie aficionados (myself included), have long awaited representation in the form of animation. And while we had a taste of it in 2014’s The Book of Life, even then we were not prominently featured in the voice casting. Coco on the other hand, features a predominantly Latinx voice cast (with the exception of John Ratzenburg, as it is Pixar tradition to have him voice one character in every Pixar film) and every single one of them delivers. The film stars Gael García Bernal as Hector, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz, Edward James Olmos as Chicharron, Jaime Camil as Papa and Alanna Ubach as Mama Imelda.
This was a bold subject matter for Pixar to take on. Speaking from my experience as a Mexican-American, I was hesitant when the first blurbs about the movie were being released. Dia de Muertos is a sacred day to many families, and the last thing you want to feel as a film attendee is offended. From the opening scene, with Miguel telling Mamá Imelda’s story and highlighting the strength of Mexican women as the backbones of their familias, to the detailing of the ofrenda; you can see the care they put into making sure they were accurate in their portrayal and storytelling.
Many will ask if this film is the same as The Book of Life, which is also a personal favorite of mine, but you can confidently tell them no. Coco deals more with family acceptance, and the approach to this is essential in Miguel’s story arc. The use of alebrije fits into the Disney formula of animal companions, but it is not done in a way that takes away from their cultural significance. If anything, by making Mamá Imelda’s alebrije Pepita as strong as she is only highlights the amazing resilience of Mexican matriarchs.
Visually, trailers and photo stills do not do this film justice. I appreciate the intricate work put in to create not only the Land of the Dead but also the detailing on every face. Each face was so individual and, if they were replicated, I did not see it. The coloring was very distinct to the bright colors that are adored in Mexican culture. While I appreciated the humor of adding Frida Kahlo, it’s a joke that could be left out of the film.
I watched this film in a theater filled with children, including my 8-year-old son and while he would cry at parts that were obviously heart-wrenching to children, my tears came at times when things were bright and shiny. From seeing the twirl of the faldas, the strums of Spanish guitars and Miguel’s grito, I was transported to a time when all I had was a worn-out Disney VHS of The Three Caballeros, that I watched over and over for just a small acknowledgement of my people. When abuelita threw her chancla, a purely comedic scene, I wept because I could feel the sting from my own Grandma Teresa’s chancla, even though it has been over a decade since she passed away. As an Afro-Latina, I was worried there would be little in the movie I could relate to, but there was my family life laid out before me on screen. There was a point when the emotions took all the way over and at that point, I truly appreciated Coco for the master class it presents to the audience: family first.
It’s an emotional ride with lots of color and fun along the way. Coco is definitely a must-see this holiday season, just be sure to remember the Pixar 3 and bring tissues.
Coco is in theaters today.