I finally got to see Coco this week! (I have only wanted to see it since I saw the first teaser trailer…) The film well exceeded my expectations for it – and they were high expectations, being that it was a Pixar film and not an existing franchise. Of course, the animation was spectacular and I was immersed in the world that the film created, even only on a small screen at home. Marigolds have an important role to play in the Day of the Day and thus featured heavily in the animation, and while I am not really a big fan of the colour orange, I loved the marigolds. In the right context, orange is absolutely beautiful.
I have never been to the region of Mexico where this film is based, so I cannot verify how well the animators captured it, but other reviews seem to agree that it was quite accurate. It did make me want to visit. Too often, Mexico is portrayed as a frightening place, particularly by American media. (Canadians, on the other hand, seem to see Mexico uniquely as a vacation destination.) While this film definitely fit the Canadian stereotype of Mexico as a place of endless music and fun, it only portrayed one day. If anything, Coco shows that Mexico has a sense of ordinariness to it. The people feel relatable, even as they are in a Disney-Pixar film and thus definitely have exaggerated characteristics.
Attention to detail is really important in visual world-building. Unlike in a book, where the reader is expected to fill in what’s missing with elements from their own imagination (hence why book-to-screen adaptations are often disappointing), film and television need to show these extra details to present a clear picture of the setting. Animation used to get away with moving figures across a nearly-featureless painted storybook background. Now, every little window and rooftop is meticulously rendered, giving a sense of depth and reality. The background characters actually do things as well, so that we are not simply following the main characters around a set. My favourite little background scene was when the main character’s grandmother was trying to get her toddler grandsons to make a trail of marigolds across the yard. Like most toddlers would, the boys simply dumped their baskets of marigold petals into a heap at their feet, and then had to be shown how to make the heap into a trail. It was simply such a realistic and relatable moment!
The story and characters were delightful. Above all, Coco is about family and love. It is not a fable about the Land of the Dead or any kind of interaction with supernatural beings, but simply a story about a family – living and deceased – trying to do their best and having misunderstandings with devastating consequences. Except for the villain, everyone’s heart was in the right place. In the case of the villain, I even felt sorry for him, because he honestly believed that the only way he could achieve his dreams was to destroy others. He had elements of being a sociopath – in which case, he would be incapable of really understanding how wrong his actions were. I was certainly glad that he got his comeuppance, but I couldn’t help thinking that he could have still achieved his dreams by making better choices.
As for the rest of the cast, the heroes, I loved their story. Miguel, our main character, was a perfect twelve-year-old. I felt like I could run into a boy like him at any school. His living relatives weren’t as fleshed out (ironically) as his deceased ones, but I could understand their motivations. His grandmother was both hilarious and tragic, in that she was so determined to keep things right in the family that she failed to realise when her actions were actually causing harm. His great-grandmother, the titular Coco, was well-portrayed as an elderly woman whose senility had mostly gotten the best of her. She was not funny at all – because senility is not funny, especially at that point. She can no longer recognise her family, barely move or speak, and no longer makes sense of her surroundings. Her great-grandson Miguel spends the most time with her – apart from the women who change and dress her – and from his perspective, she is the only one who seems to understand him. However, by the end of the film, we retroactively realise why Coco seems to enjoy Miguel’s presence so much: he reminds her of her father, and when he is talking and playing with her, she feels like a little girl and her papa is home again.
Which brings me to Miguel’s dead relatives, who get much more screentime. Some of them are for back-up and comic relief, but Miguel’s adventure with his great-great-grandparents is an emotional roller-coaster ride. As an adult, I really wanted to know more about their backstory. How did they meet? Why was his great-great-grandmother a wonderful matriarch, but no mention was ever made of her parents? Why was Miguel’s grandmother’s husband not featured in the film – what was the story there? What occurred between the great-great-grandparents during their 45 years in the Land of the Dead at the same time? Surely his great-great-grandfather would have sought out his wife only to be pushed away repeatedly. Perhaps that is why he was surprised that he was still considered the love of her life! (According to Wikipedia, the couple was only in their early twenties when the husband disappeared/died, so from his perspective, there would have been plenty of time for his wife to find someone else. Of course, she was too busy raising their daughter and didn’t know she was widowed, so again – misunderstandings!)
Personally, I would love it if Disney commissioned an author to write a novel about Miguel’s great-great-grandparents and ending with the events of the film from their perspective! It sounds like it started with an ill-fated teen romance with two idealistic and artistic kids running off to find fame and fortune together (hence the lack of their parents ever being mentioned – although they could be orphans), then getting married and having conflicting timelines regarding their family, leading to the husband going on tour while his wife stayed home. He never came back, leading to her to despise music and decide that she was going to succeed at life on her own. But since she didn’t actually know he was dead, she never remarried – and perhaps she wanted to avoid getting her heart broken again. So instead, she surrounded herself with her family – the people that she could trust not to leave her: her little brothers, her daughter, her son-in-law, her granddaughters, etc. And they were all indeed very successful!
While she still missed her husband, her love for him had turned to anger and frustration over the fifty years of the rest of her life, so naturally when she met up with him in the Land of the Dead, she was in no mood for apologies or reconciliation. Even Miguel telling her that her husband had never meant to abandon her did little to soften her anger – it was not until she realised that her desire to erase him from her life had meant that she was going to lose him again to being forgotten by the living that she was able to consider reconciling with him. Honestly, does this not sound like a good novel? Honestly, it’s got historical fiction, music, paranormal travel, tragedy, romance, family curses, and an ultimate happy ending.
I’ll definitely be watching this one again – with boxes of tissues handy!