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How Disney Pixar Coco got Mexican Culture Right, Coco, Disney Pixar, Mexico, Why Coco is culturally relevant, What Coco is really about, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the dead

How Disney’s Coco got Mexican Culture Right

by Deborah Cruz

Yesterday, we finally saw Disney Pixar’s Coco and, as a Mexican, it exceeded my expectations in every way. Disney got this movie 100% right from the culture, to the people even down to the small details in the geography. Being Mexican isn’t just where your people are descended from it is a way of life, a way of thinking and believing. It is all about our culture and our culture revolves around one primary belief…family is everything.

Without too many spoilers; Coco is the story of a little boy and aspiring musician, Miguel, who in pursuit of his own dream to be a musician goes against what his family wants for him. Through his disobedience on Dia de los Muertos, he finds himself in the Land of the Dead. In order to return, all he needs to the Land of the Living is a blessing from a family member, a magical marigold petal and a promise he’s not sure he can make.

Through an expected spiritual journey of his own, Miguel comes to realize that while pursuing your dreams and being passionate and unrelenting in that pursuit is something that our people believe very deeply in, family always comes first. Sometimes you have to lose that safety net, one most of us have never been without, to realize what is truly important in this life and beyond.

Director, Lee Unkrich, went above and beyond by sending members of the crew to Mexico for research in order to gain an authentic sense of the country’s music and culture and it shows. I also love that he used an all Latino voice cast including, to name a few, Renee Victor, Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Edward James Olmos, Anthony Gonzalez and Ana Ofelia Murguía. It made it feel authentic and not contrived like so many other movies have done. The Spanish language is not merely adding an “o” to every English word and the culture is certainly more than adding heat to everything. I especially loved that in the Land of the Dead some of Mexico’s great icons were included like Frida Kahlo, Cantiflas, Pedro Infante, Jorge Nigrete and Pancho Villa to name just a few.

If you’ve ever wanted to get a real inside feel for what it’s like to be Mexican, to live the culture and to understand what propels us forward, what drives us to live our truth on every level, Coco will lay it all out for you.

I love that it also shows how important music is to our people. It is not just to dance to, though we love a good party, but to pass down the stories of our people, portray the love of our culture and share our deep feelings about life, love and death. The grito, that portrays pure happiness and excitement, was a big part of my childhood coming from a family of musicians and farmers. Farming was the family trade but playing music and singing was the family’s joy, something we’ve always done together.

When I was watching the movie, I was quite emotional because the landscape was the perfect portrayal of my Mexico. The cobblestone streets, the courtyard in the center of the family homes, the iron gate opening to the family’s courtyard, the graveyard, the “chancla”, the musicians in the plaza and the way the people all take care of one another; everyone is family, this is exactly what it was like for me as a child visiting my grandfather and grandmother in my dad’s small village of Etúcuaro, Mexico.

Coco, Disney Pixar, Mexico, Why Coco is culturally relevant, What Coco is really about, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the dead

I think there has always been a common misconception to the outside world that our Day of the Dead is an extension of modern-day Halloween, in which the main focus is dressing up but it is nothing like that. Our Day of the Dead is a beautiful day of reverence; a day to pay homage, honor and remember our loved ones who have passed on. For us, they may be gone but they will never be forgotten. It’s a day to feel close to them and share memories of their lives. It’s a day to celebrate not that they are gone but the lives they lived. I think Coco did an amazing job of portraying that.

The film, Coco, itself is a visually stunning Disney film with a beautiful message; the most important message. I think every child and parent of every culture, nationality and race should watch this movie because when you have nothing else, you always have your family because family is everything. They are who will always catch you when you fall, love you when you are unlovable, forgive you when you do the unforgivable, pick you up when you’ve fallen down and never forget you. We live on through their memories forever so be the best you while you’re here because that’s how you will be remembered for eternity.

Coco is a movie that I can and do plan on handing down to my children and my children’s children. My only regret is that I didn’t get to watch it with my dad and he will be returning to Mexico this week. As a Mexican and a musician himself, I know he will fall in love with Coco and its soundtrack as much as I have. The music is haunting and beautiful and pulls at your heartstrings while making your chest swell with emotion. I was transported back to my childhood and left blurry eyed remembering all those who have crossed over the Marigold bridge.

Coco, Disney Pixar, Mexico, Why Coco is culturally relevant, What Coco is really about, Dia de los Muertos, Day of the dead

I haven’t been to Mexico in years since my grandfather died. My dad has asked me repeatedly to bring my girls to visit him, to show them the land where he was born; the country that is drenched in passion, soul, and an unending belief that through hard work and big dreams anything is possible but the pain of the loss of those I remember so fondly, no longer being there to greet me with a smile and a hug has been too much to bear.

The thought of not greeting the day with the sight of my grandfather’s back as he quietly eats his breakfast of pan con leche or hearing my tio Narci’s Grito or “Orale” when he’s proud of something we did, even if it was just our first steps has been hard for me but now, I want to go to be among the place where they once lived, where their memories are soaked into the furniture and the walls. Where they are known and remembered.

Coco stirred up all the pride I feel for my culture, its people and brought it all to the top. I’m putting it out to the universe to take my daughters to see the land that made us who we are today and visit the graves of our loved ones who came before us and made those dreams possible.

Last night, Coco took home the Golden Globe for Best Animated Motion Picture. Unkrich thanked his cast and crew during his acceptance speech and made a point of highlighting the vital importance of the culture that inspired the film and it was beautiful.

Coco would not exist without the incredible people of Mexico and their tradition of Día de los Muertos.”

I fell in love with the story of Coco, maybe it was because I’m Mexican, maybe because my dad plays the guitar and has been singing songs to me since I was born, maybe because I saw myself and my family in every scene of this movie. All I know is that I love it.

If you’ve seen it, I would love to discuss the film and its themes with you. What did you like or not like about it? What moved you? What did you not understand? Do you have any questions about the cultural side of it that I can explain better?

What did Coco mean to you?

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Stacie @ Divine Lifestyle 2018/01/08 - 1:06 pm

Coco is one of my favorite animated films of all time. I actually had no reference point for Day of the Dead at all, so I’m glad they did it right. That means what I learned wasn’t all wrong!

Jennifer G 2018/01/08 - 1:52 pm

I haven’t seen this movie as of yet, but my kids totally can’t wait to see it. I have heard some really great reviews of it and I think I am going to have to watch it with them asap!

Jennifer Van Huss 2018/01/08 - 4:42 pm

This was one of my favourite cartoons of 2017. I didn’t want to see it to be honest. I thought it would be like book of life. Instead, it blew my mind. By the end my DD6 and I were balling by the end of it! So in love with the characters! It’s great to see a movie take culture and make everyone fall in love!

Jennifer Quillen 2018/01/08 - 6:28 pm

I haven’t seen this movie yet. I’ve heard it’s a really cute and funny movie.

Marysa 2018/01/08 - 9:28 pm

We just saw this movie over Christmas break, and I thought it was very well done. It was nice to see something a little different from the usual kid’s movies. It is nice to hear what you thought of the movie!

Ricci 2018/01/08 - 11:31 pm

I havne’t seen Coco yet and I totally need to!! I am Disney movie fanatic and I can’t believe I haven’t seen it yet.

Kathy 2018/01/09 - 12:24 pm

I really want to see this movie. It looks like such a great one. I’d love to bring my girls so we could see it. I think they’re going to love it as well.

Wendy Polisi 2018/01/09 - 5:40 pm

This looks like a great one for the family. I still haven’t seen it!

Cindy Gordon 2018/01/09 - 5:41 pm

I absolutely loved this move. Pixar did an amazing job.

Tatanisha Worthey 2018/01/09 - 5:42 pm

I could not believe how great this one was. The detail to culture was amazing.

Cyn Gagen 2018/01/10 - 4:49 pm

I want to see this so badly! It sounds amazing and I already even have it on preorder for when it comes out on Bluray.

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