I realize that I’m late to the Coco party. However, with Divine Mercy Sunday around the corner, I decided that this would be a #FlashbackFriday type of review. I honestly think that Coco is the most Catholic movie that Pixar ever made and I’m not just saying that because the movie is inspired by Mexican culture. What makes this movie Catholic are the themes: family, forgiveness, and never forgetting to honor the dead.
Spoilers ahead for those who haven’t seen this movie yet. I highly recommend at least renting the movie. It’s available on Redbox. It’s definitely worth a watch.
The emphasis on being loyal to one’s family is established early on in the movie. It’s clear from the beginning that Miguel loves his family, in spite of the fact that his abeulita tries to keep music from their lives a little too much. Miguel is especially close to his great-grandmother Coco.
Side note, but I think this is the first Disney/Pixar movie to feature an entire family unit. Both of Miguel’s parents are alive and aside from the relatives who are living in the land of the dead, nobody in Hector’s family gets killed off. Not only that, but you see a family working and living together.
The conflict that drives the movie is Miguel’s desire to pursue music, even if it means ignoring or even outright cutting himself off from his family. It’s clear that he’s a great musician and for a while, it feels as though his family takes the anti-music stance way too far, especially when Miguel’s abuelita destroys his guitar. However, the events of this movie show Miguel that it’s important to stay connected to your family, especially when he learns that Ernesto got his fame by murdering his songwriter friend Hector.
I love the character of Hector, by the way. The movie does a great job at making you suspicious of Hector at first, but he slowly becomes more endearing, especially when he encourages Miguel and shows that he cares for him and is protective of him, even though Miguel is just a stranger.
The theme of remembering the dead is what drives the subplot of the movie: Hector wants to visit his daughter and be remembered or else he will disappear into oblivion. It’s never said where the souls of the forgotten go after the “Final Death,” but it compels the audience to take on a very Catholic tradition: to pray for those who have no one to pray for. In that way, no soul is ever really forgotten.
On a similar note, the land of the dead really reminds me of Purgatory, final death thing put aside. It’s not exactly heaven, given that a murderer like Ernesto is living there, but it’s not Hell, either. It’s a place for departed souls to live and there’s still a link to those who are living, even if it’s just one day a year.
One good thing that came out of the broken pedestal experience though is that Miguel finds out that Hector is his real great-great-grandfather. This leads into the second Catholic theme of the movie, which focuses on forgiveness. When Miguel and Hector are reunited with Miguel’s deceased relatives towards the end of the second act, his great-great grandmother Imelda is reluctant to forgive Hector for leaving her.
What makes the relationship with Hector and Imelda interesting is that Imelda never remarried. She cut Hector and her love for music out of her life, even though she loved both very much. When she confronts Ernesto, she berates and hits Ernesto for “murdering the love of my life.” In classical tsundere fashion, she still claims to be mad at Hector, but she at least loves Hector enough to know that he doesn’t deserve to be forgotten.
I love that forgiveness is shown to be a process. Imelda goes from hating Hector to defending him to finally allowing him to be in her life and her family. This is shown in the climax, when Miguel has to return to the land of the living. At the start of the movie, Imelda wants Miguel to promise her to never pursue music again when he returns to the land of the living. In the second attempt to get Miguel back, Miguel is actually willing to make good on that condition. The third attempt, however, is made with no conditions. Just the type of selfless love that seriously has me reaching for the tissues.
The two themes of family and forgiveness get tied together in what I feel is my favorite scene: Miguel plays “Remember Me” for Coco in front of his family. His abuelita tries to stop him, but his father allows Miguel to play. The song restores Coco’s memory and allows her to tell everyone in her family about all the mementos she kept from her father and how her parents both loved music.
One year later, Miguel’s deceased relatives, Hector and Coco included, get to spend time with the living on the Day of the Dead. Miguel and his family join in on a song and it’s shown that Hector is playing along with him. All is forgiven and music has returned to the lives of the Rivera family. I love the ending of this movie because it shows that pursuing one’s passion should never come at the expense of family.
One last side note: I love the animal sidekicks in this movie, especially Dante the Xolo dog. He’s a lot like Scooby-Doo in that he seems so goofy and is kinda cute even if he’s a hairless street dog, but he is also foreshadowed to be a true guide in the land of the dead, instinctively throwing Hector and Miguel together a lot. Plus, the name is very fitting as those familiar with The Divine Comedy or at least Inferno recognize the name from the protagonist of those stories, who literally goes through a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.
This movie isn’t just great to watch for the Day of the Dead. It’s one I recommend watching for Lent and even now, in the Easter season.
Pray for the souls of those who’ve died, especially those who have no one to pray for.