Coco is the newest addition to the Disney Pixar line-up. It follows the journey of a young child named Miguel as he traverses the Land of the Dead to gain the blessing of his ancestors to become a musician, even though music has been banned in his family for generations. It’s a beautiful movie with a great message, amazing design and a fun energy about it.
But this isn’t about Coco as a film.
In Coco, the audience is given a quick primer on the old Mexican tradition of Día de Muertos (the Day of the Dead); a celebratory holiday taking place around Halloween in which the living remember, embrace and celebrate the memories of the dead with joy. One of the main traditions is the creating of an ofrenda, an altar in which pictures of the dead are displayed along with flowers, the deceased’s favourite items from their life, candles and food/drink offerings to welcome the dead back into their homes and to enjoy on their journey back to the land of the dead.
Coco, the titular character, is an old woman and great grandmother to the movie’s main character, Miguel. Miguel dreams of being a musician like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz but there has been a ban on all music in his family for generations after Coco’s father abandoned them all to become a famous musician. The movie takes place with Miguel running away from his family and going to the Land of the Dead to discover his great, great grandfather and find out why music has been such a sore spot for his family.
Coco deals with topics that, while may have a nice message for most, was absolutely devastating to me. It’s a movie that feels like it was made to speak to me personally. It’s a rarity that happens a few times in a lifetime but when a piece of media is so poignant that it hits just right in a way that only with your personal memories it destroys you to your being, it’s important.
As far as I can remember, there’s never been a quiet moment in our family; whether it be my dad playing piano and making up silly lyrics to basic riffs to bug us or my grandfather filling any threat of silence with classical piano whenever he was around, there was always music. It’s always been the way I remember our family spending time together. We didn’t go to movies together, rarely played games, hell we barely even ate at the same table most times. But we always had music and played together. Especially my grandfather.
My grandpa was a professional musician. He graduated from the Conservatorio Nacional de Musica with his degree specializing in teaching piano. I never really knew him in any impactful way; to be honest I always was a little embarrassed with how proud he was of us all. I was always a little resentful of how he would only spend holidays at home growing up because he was living a few hours away from us playing at some filthy rich hotel for rich filthy tourists to send money home to my grandmother. I wouldn’t say I had the best relationship with him, to be honest, but I blame myself for that.
He died last year.
To say it was sudden is an understatement. His death was the catalyst for me to really look into that side of the family more and rediscover the true meaning of Dia de Muertos and the traditions associated with it to the point of actually participating earlier this year for the first time. I’ve just recently really learned how important the idea of keeping the memory of one who has passed alive and for it to reflect so closely to my coming of terms with this, Coco has earned a respect it probably doesn’t even have a right to have.
But it does. And nothing else matters.
Libro de ayer que has leido y que has deshojado
(Yesterday’s book that you have read and that you have stripped)
hojas que encierran las cosas que el tiempo borro
(Sheets that enclose the things that time erases)
ese libro azul de, de tu recuerdo
(That blue book of your memory)
cierralo esta vez
(Close it this time)
guarda sus memorias en tu corazo
(Keep your memories in your heart)
– lyrics from “El Libro Azul” performed by Los Tecolines, written by Abel Urbina Martinez, my grandfather