Cuckoo for COCO

No, I am not talking about this guy:

Coco is the new movie from Disney/Pixar, creators of some of my favorite movies and franchises: Toy Story, The Incredibles, UP, Wall-E, and so many more. I've been critical of Pixar's recent decisions to flood us with sequels: Finding Dory, Cars 3, Incredibles 2, Toy Story 4. When they stick to original movies, like Inside Out a couple of years ago, they almost always strike gold.

Coco is in an original category all its own. It may be the best Pixar movie ever.

I've been tweeting about Coco for weeks:

But this is my first chance to write a proper review of the movie. So here goes.

Coco centers in, and around, Mexico's tradition Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It's an annual day of remembrance for loved ones who have died. An altar is constructed in the home, full of pictures and personal objects belonging to the family's ancestors. A trail of leaves leads the spirits of the departed to the home. Food is served and stories are shared. Coco observes all of this ritual and tradition in a way where the viewer is also a participant. 

There is a respectful, authentic approach to this movie that gives it extra value. It is set in Mexico, focuses on a Mexican family, weaves Spanish phrases into English sentences (without unnecessary subtitles or translation for the audience). Disney/Pixar sought out creative types with Mexican/Latin American roots from and gave them various roles in the production, from writing and directing to sound and visual design. As much as I love a movie like The Three Amigos, it involves three white dudes saving a Mexican town on what is obviously a studio set, not a real place. Coco is in this universe all the way. This movie is gorgeous to look at. The colors are amazing on the screen. The land of the dead is creatively imagined, and the story has surprising turns.

One of my all-time favorite movie lines happens in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn. I don't know how many times I have quoted it. Kirk says, "How we approach death is as important as how we approach life." Much of human existence is struggling with the end of our lives. Do we continue on somehow? Or is life a series of electrical impulses of the brain and when it's over that's the end? Theologically, one of the central questions of Christian faith has to do with questions of life and death. So for a kids' movie to address these issues is significant.

Coco is also about memory. The departed loved ones are as excited about the Day of the Dead as their living relatives. It's the one day they are able to literally "cross over" and visit the Land of the Living. As long as family remembers them, placing a picture on the altar, they remain alive in the Land of the Dead. When they are forgotten in the Land of the Living they cease to exist on the other side as well. Remembering loved ones who have died invites a multi-generational approach to family life, sharing stories and traditions. These memories give life meaning. I was balling by the end of the movie.

Coco has made over $400 million in a few weeks. Even before it opened in the US, it was the all-time highest earning film in Mexico. But you don't have to be Mexican, or even observe the Dia de los Muertos, to love this movie or to find a personal message in it. It calls each of us to remember our departed loved ones, to give thanks for their continuing influence on us. Coco's success will hopefully challenge Hollywood to find more of these authentic/ethnic stories to share. There are so many rich traditions out there that go ignored. This movie is a treasure on many levels.