If the plot of Coco sounds familiar to you, it’s because it was done a few years ago in another Dia de los Muertos themes film, The Book of Life (2012). Main character is faced with the decision to follow their heart or join the family business and proceeds to go on an adventure in the land of the dead. I had high hopes for The Book of Life because you don’t see many animated films featuring Mexican culture, but ultimately it missed the mark. Meanwhile, Coco resonates with its audience immediately. It’s the little things like the scene at the table where Miguel’s abuelita serves up a huge pile of tamales despite his protests. Or when she takes off her chancla, throws it at the dog, and then orders Miguel to fetch it for her.
My own family never made altars or ofrendas. There were no flying chanclas in my house. We didn’t celebrate Day of the Dead. We’ve never been big on traditional stuff like that, but it is part of our culture and it felt good to see it represented in a relatable way on the big screen. It was beautiful and authentic and real.
“I needed the audience to be able to connect with that character in a way [that] they forget they were watching animation. They forgot they were watching a skeleton. They were just seeing a soul.”
– Lee Unkrich, in a Vanity Fair article
I took my daughter to see it a few Sundays ago. That week’s Sunday Funday involved a bucket of popcorn, a giant soft pretzel, and a movie. I did not expect to like this movie as much as I did, nor did I expect it to have any lasting effect on me. And I certainly didn’t expect my 12 year old to ask me to buy it on DVD for her before we even left the theater. I am far from traditional, and my kid’s interest in movies rarely extends past the theater door. When her grandparents asked how the movie was, she said, “Very emotional. I almost cried.”
She lies. She did cry.