Thursday, June 7, 2018

Film Review: Coco

Sexuality/Nudity No Objection
Violence No Objection
Vulgarity No Objection
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

As a devout Catholic, one of the ways to enjoy this movie is to suspend your religious objections to their portrayl of the afterlife.  This may be difficult for some and others may not want to.  I completely respect this choice.  But Coco is not intended to portray life (or afterlife) as it actually is.  Just as in movies like Chances Are, Defending Your Life, or Field of Dreams, the filmmakers are using the narrative device of the afterlife to explore other universal themes.

Coco is the story of Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), a young boy with a passion for music in a family where music is forbidden.  The only person with whom he feels an affinity is Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), a famous movie star and musician who passed away many years ago.  His family is preparing for the Day of the Dead by placing photos of loved ones on the ofrenda (a special shelf for the memory of loved ones).  He takes a photo from the ofrenda when he sees that his great grandfather is holding the exact same guitar as Ernesto.  Miguel, now believing he has the blood of a great musicisan in his veins, decides to take Ernesto's guitar from his crypt to enter into a music contest.  However, when he does this, Miguel enters the spirit world.

In the spirit world, he encounters the put-upon Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) who is trying to come to Earth on the Day of the Dead but can't.  Miguel also encounters his dead relatives like his grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach).  If Miguel does not return to Earth before dawn, he will remain among the dead.  Only one of Miguel's relatives can send him back.  Imelda is willing to send him on the condition that he gives up music.  Not willing to make this sacrifice, Miguel uses Hector as a guide in the spirit world to find Ernesto who Miguel believes will send him home without having to give up music.

One of the things that makes this movie work so well is that Coco very intelligently and wonderfully deals with the question of which comes first: your love or your dreams.  Miguel loves his family, but he loves music.  Must he abandon one to have the other?  This is not simply a hypothetical question.  This is something that many of us have to face on some level.  I remember that I had considered pursuing acting professionally.  But when I realized actors had a 90% unemployment rate in their profession, I demurred.  I knew at this point that I was going to be married and I had to take care of my family first.  I in no way regret that choice and I am blissfully happy.  But there are those for whom the choice is not as easy.  And who can deny the sacrifices one must make in their personal lives to achieve fame and success in their given field.

Like most PIXAR movies, the film is gorgeous.  The production design is top notch and will keep your attention the entire time.  Their interpretation of the the afterlife is both bold and colorful without ever letting you forget that that those inhabitants are deceased.  And the music was both fun and emotional.

The story also has a few more complicated twists and turns than I expected, which is a very enjoyable thing to find in a children's movie.  And with each new wrinkle, we delve deeper into the core themes of dreams and family.  Above all, PIXAR knows how to pull at the heartstrings in the correct way and they do so with Coco again. 

As a Catholic, I enjoyed the copious amounts of religious imagery, especially Our Lady of Guadalupe.  And even though I mentioned that this portrayal of the afterlife is not fairly compatible with the faith, it reminds us that our relationship to our loved ones does not end with death.  Some may find this a bit too somber of a message to bring to a children's film.  But I think that the more we remind them that death is not the end, the better equipped they will be to deal with this when they are adults.

For all these reasons, I recommend Coco for any age. 

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image by Yasir72.multan

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