We live in an era were people of color are able to become more and more intertwined with relevant popular culture events. We have Ta-Nehisi Coates writing for the Black Panther comic book, Jordan Peele giving us the racial horror film Get Out and Guillermo Del Toro still serving us some nuanced — but still weird — characters in his productions.
Advocating for more representation has been met with some (for lack of a better term) pushback by those who hold the power in our bureaucratic societies.
Through film and other forms of art and entertainment, creative people have the opportunity to push forward and create work that represents each and every one of us.
That being said, it is very easy to fuck up something as sensitive as representation. Often times the person working on the project isn’t suitable for the job, thus the film (in this case) bombs critically and financially, and then the studio decides that representation isn’t worth the risk of losing millions of dollars.
That’s what Pixar’s Coco was up against when it hit theaters. It had to be able to provide an entertaining story while properly representing Mexican culture and its intricacies.
Thankfully, the director Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Pixar had foresight and hired Lalo Alcaraz, Octavio Solis and Marcela Davison Aviles to form a culture consultancy group. That being said, there was some uproar when Disney tried to trademark the name “Dia De Los Muertos.”
Nonetheless, the consultancy was a great way to introduce some diversity — although I would have loved to see a Mexican-American director on this film — and if studios are really hesitant to hire outside talent, then consultants are the next best thing.
Additionally the cast is filled by bilingual actors, spearheaded by Gael García Bernal, who really dive into the characters that they were given.
Thankfully, Unkrich and company succeed in creating not only a world that feels unique to the Pixar universe but one that also successfully portrays Mexican culture without falling into stereotypes. The film focuses on the Rivera family who avoid any form of musical expression, so naturally Miguel, our main character, wants to be a musician.
In an effort to gain the acceptance of his family, Miguel tries to find his missing great-great grandfather in the Land of the Dead. I won’t say more about the plot because that could be considered spoilers, and this is a spoiler-free zone.
However, I will say this: Although the plot twists are telegraphed throughout the movie, each character that we are introduced to is interesting enough that it doesn’t matter.
As with almost every animated Disney film, there is a musical component to this wonderful little film. Credit to the songwriters because each song is fantastic and carries the familiar rhythms that come with music from Latin America.
The lyrics are meaningful and are used for more than just a way to tell us about how a certain character is feeling. I may have teared up at times, but trust me: It’s all very well earned.
Another thing, the animators working on this film deserve a raise. Each frame is filled with the most detailed characters; from tiny windows in a wide-shot to the alebrijes, we get vibrant colors that make it feel like you are in this Land of the Dead as well. There’s so much praise that I can give to these animators, but they work for Pixar so they know they are the best.
As a Mexican-American, this film reminded me so much of my own family and our traditions. I can’t imagine how people who live in Mexico and are even more involved with the culture feel about finally seeing it celebrated on the silver screen.
I watched Coco with my dad in a crowded theater filled with other people who looked like me, and all I could hear after the credits rolled was happy laughter and the desire to watch this film again.
I’m hoping to catch this one more time in the theater — which is how you should see this film for the first time — but with the entire film in Spanish. That’s the only way it can get better.