When previews for the movie Coco began airing, I was nervous about how I would approach this review knowing that it is a story about a different culture and for some, even different beliefs. I did my best to lean into the differences in this film and use it as a teaching tool for what we do believe as a family. As a Christian and as a mother, I will admit to having a healthy bit of concern about this film before we watched it together as a family, but we braved the theater on opening weekend and I am so glad we did because it opened a door to conversations I am not sure we would’ve had otherwise.
In the spirit of transparency, I will share my bias upfront – some of my favorite things in life are Jesus and Disney. Pixar Animation Studios produced the movie Coco and Pixar is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Thus, in my book, pro-Coco point #1.
Much of the movie is centered around the traditions of the Rivera family as they celebrate The Day Of The Dead – a Mexican holiday that honors departed loved ones by creating altars that include photos and other “ofrendas,” which are offerings of items that family members identify with the deceased person. Now, as a believer, setting an altar to anything other than my Creator doesn’t align with my faith and likely not yours either. So, if you’re keeping score – we’re at 1-1.
Hang in there with me though, I am not quite ready to suggest you scratch this movie off of your must-see list. Let’s dive into this film a bit more and see if we can break the tie …
Coco is told through the eyes of 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez) who loves his family and is proud of his heritage – including a deep, but now silenced, love of music. Miguel knows the family legend about his great-great grandfather, who chose to leave his family behind in order to chase his own musical dreams. Years later, in spite of the loss and through lots of hard work, the family builds a successful shoe-making business, but not without a bitterness toward the joy found in music. This proves to be difficult for Miguel who greatly loves music and is desperate to use his gifts. He decides to break into what he believes to be his great-great grandfather’s mausoleum to “borrow” his guitar to play in the hometown musical competition. With a strum of the stolen guitar, Miguel unlocks an entire world where his deceased relatives live. In order to be transported back to the land of the living, Miguel must have the blessing of his ancestors – and they aren’t willing to offer their blessing unless he agrees to never play music again. This sends Miguel on a journey to find his great-great grandfather who will surely understand his love of music and will hopefully provide him with the blessing he needs to return and live a melodic, happy life.
There is more to the plot, but I am hesitant to provide more detail as it might give away even more of an already predictable storyline. What I will say is that the title of the movie is derived from the name of Miguel’s great grandmother, Coco, who barely utters a word in the movie, but her heart and presence define true, uninhibited, unconditional love.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t stop here and take a minute to mention the incredible animation in Coco. Pixar has a way of transporting you into a place that feels natural and leaves you awe-struck in the same moment. The first view of the Land Of The Dead depicts a magical city that is by no means scary, rather it’s filled with vibrant colors and a booming metropolis complete with transportation and impeccable architecture. Here skeletons become characters with personality and often deliver the memorable punch lines – making it easier for little ones (who might otherwise be scared of skeletons) to enjoy the movie.
The theme song of the movie, “Remember Me” is certainly Oscar-worthy and adds to the significance of the movie’s message in celebrating your heritage and remembering the people who’ve come before you and how that impacts who you are and who you will become.
It is evident that Pixar also went to great lengths to honor Mexican culture, traditions, and customs in the making of Coco. Many of these details were my favorite parts of the movie as they became conversation starters with our boys about what we believe in our family and the traditions we celebrate around our faith.
Faith may be the hot button issue around this movie, especially for us as Christians. Celebrating The Day Of The Dead (or El Día De Los Muertos) may be uncomfortable for us as it is unfamiliar and there is a bit of folklore surrounding it. However, the holiday is not intended to be dark or morbid – rather it is a celebration of life lived and now gone. It is a time of remembrance. The experience of death and grief transcends all races, religions, and cultures. Watching this movie with our boys (ages 6 & 8) opened a door for us to talk about where we go when we die and how God made a way for us to be with Him forever.
In the end, the fact that Coco shared a totally different worldview than the one we have in our home is exactly the reason we took our boys to see the film. I’d do it again in a heartbeat because my husband and I want to be the ones who help them navigate differences – teaching them to hold a space of respect for others who believe differently than they do, while also being confident and educated in their own faith. We also loved the over-arching theme of family and belonging throughout the movie. It led to meaningful conversations on the ride home about how people and relationships are far more important than riches or fame as they are temporary and fleeting, and why we are so thankful for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ.
So, for our little family, Coco was a hit. However, let me say — this might not be a movie you decide to see with your family, and that’s ok!
Here are a few conversation starters for your family if you choose to see Coco:
1. What do you think Miguel learned to value the most on his journey?
2. What are some of your favorite stories about our family? Is there anyone from our family that you would want to meet if you could?
3. What do we believe about what happens to us after we die?
4. Read 1 Corinthians 15:12-28 together as a family. What does God promise us about new life after death?