To Not Be Forgotten (Coco, 2017)
Miguel comes from a family that has erased music…and their great, great grandfather… fro the collective memories. But Miguel loves music. He wants to sing like his idol, the late Ernesto De La Cruz. On the Day of the Dead, Miguel decides to take to heart De La Cruz’s motto of seizing your moment by performing a song at the talent show that evening.
When his grandmother discovers him with his guitar, she smashes it, angering Miguel. He discovers that his unknown great great grandfather is actually De La Cruz and so, after being unable to obtain a guitar from other musicians, he tries to borrow the guitar from his great great grandfather’s crypt. Suddenly, he finds himself invisible to all around him…until he runs into skeletal beings…who seem to recognize him. Miguel finds his relatives who have died have come to visit the land of the living for the celebration of the Day of the Dead.
He is brought back to the Land of the Dead, where his family works to get him back to the land of the living. His Great Great Grandmother Mamá Imelda was held back by by their being no picture of her set out for the Day of the Dead. When they find out that this is the fault of Miguel, she gifts him the blessing to return…but with the condition that he never seek to play music again. Miguel cannot help himself and ends up back in the Land of the Dead. But instead of accepting his Mamá Imelda’s blessing again, he refuses and seeks to find his Great Great Grandfather De La Cruz, certain he will give him the blessing he so needs, without condition. A con artist named Hector offers to help Miguel get to him in exchange for bringing his picture back to the land of the living and setting it out for the Day of the Dead. But they are racing against time. His family is trying to find him both in the Land of the Dead and the Land of the Living, and if he does not get back before sunrise? Miguel will be stuck in the Land of the Dead forever.
One might gripe that there is little about this story that is new. Many, many times we have seen the story of the young kid or character who is out of step with their family or society in general. Pixar and animated kid movies have capitalized on this notion of the kid (or kid at heart) who has a dream and it really falls on the family (or society) to learn how wrong they were. And there are elements of that here. His family reasons for erasing the existence of his Great Great Grandfather are understandable. He walked away from the family…from his wife and daughter…never to be seen again.
But Coco has a much greater lesson for both Miguel and his family. Miguel must learn how important his family truly is to him. Both Hector and Mamá Imelda express a disdain for musicians, and yet harbor beautiful talent. We find both have been hurt by the musician’s life.
The infusion of music to the film is an infusion of emotion and life (I honestly cannot picture another artistic love for Miguel that would feel quite as powerful here). The songs connect us to Miguel, Mamá Imelda, Hector and De La Cruz.
Visually, the Land of the Dead is so celebratory and vibrant, it pulls you in, and the character designs allow for the quick adjustment to the fact that Hector is surrounded by decorative skeletons that are fun to watch.
Coco is a wonderfully beautiful fest for the eyes that is full of heart.