Saturday, December 2, 2017


Music has been prohibited in Miguel's (Anthony Gonzalez) household for the longest time ever since his great great grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a musical career, never to come back. Focusing instead on the family's burgeoning shoe business, grandma Elena (Renée Victor) makes sure that such ban remains in place, which becomes a dilemma for the young boy when he finds himself drawn to the allure of musical stardom. Putting two and two together, he realizes that legendary musician Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) is no other than the great great grandfather they never knew. Stealing his guitar from his mausoleum, he is magically transported with a simple strum to a parallel universe where dead loved ones find themselves after their life on Earth has ended. They are allowed to cross over back from the afterlife during Día de Muertos, Mexico's much celebrated Day of the Dead, as long as their family continues to remember them by keeping their photos visible on their altars. There, Miguel meets Hector (Gael García Bernal), a trickster who offers to help him reach de la Cruz in order to get his blessing and send him back to the world of the living before it's too late.

It's about time that the world saw Mexico in a different light, far detached from its negative image that is always shown in the news. Anyone who has been to the country will see Coco as a good opportunity to reminisce the vibrant culture and tradition that define the nation. This film offers a chance to correct certain misconceptions for those who have no luxury to get to know the country better than what they are told about it in the media. We don't really know if there is an effective way to capture the soul of an entire nation on film, if that is even possible, but it is safe to assume that Coco comes really close to doing so. It's pure magic, and as Mexican as it can ever be. 

But you don't have to be Mexican to be impressed by Coco for the mere fact that buried beneath all the colorful and vivid animated representation of Mexican culture, there lies a universal concept that we will never really get to fathom: Death. When our loved ones die, where do they go? Do they go on living in an alternate plane of existence that overlaps with ours from time to time? Is it similar to turning off a light switch and getting lost in nothingness once and for all?

Death has always been a source of confusion, grief, and fascination for the human race. That explains why almost every civilization that ever walked this Earth has had its own imagination and corresponding take on the afterlife. Calaveras and alebrijes aside, Coco's take on life after death is not entirely Mexican, but deserves some kudos thanks to the effort that its creators have exerted in coming up with such a creative idea.

There are some concepts that will just make you laugh such as the immigration-type system in place for ushering the dead from one world to another. And then you also have some philosophical and touching ideas such as that of using photos on altars to determine whether a soul is allowed to come back or not. On the surface it probably comes off as a bit outrageous and funny, but when you delve deeper it actually makes a lot of sense. And this is perhaps what makes the movie so memorable. At one point, it might just make you cry. 

And I actually did. It is in that scene where Miguel finally gets to sing Remember Me to his great grandma Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguía), leading her to snap out of her catatonia and finally remember her own father who was on the brink of being lost from their memories forever. The scene is so full of emotions because it brings about certain realizations about death that we often take for granted as we continue to navigate the murky waters of this thing called life.

When the people close to us die, they don't really go away, because it is up to us to keep them alive in our hearts as long as we could. They will only ever die if we decide that it's time to let them go, and that's what Coco teaches us. For an animated feature meant for children, it is such an achievement for it to be able to break down the complicated and multilayered concept of death and letting go in such a way that you can appreciate the beauty and poignancy of it all.

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