Coco, An Homage to Mexico
“Death is something we shouldn't fear because, while we are, death isn't, and when death is, we aren't.”—Antonio Machado
Recently, I had the opportunity to watch Coco, an extraordinary film from Disney-Pixar that was destined to win this year’s Oscars for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Song. The film’s success extends well beyond the Oscars— it was nominated for 113 different awards and honors from around the world, and has won 87, including two BAFTAs and two Golden Globes.
The film itself is an intricate work of art that took more than 7 years to complete. For Pixar, it was worth the wait. As of last month, Coco has earned more than US$740 million in worldwide box offices. Even more than the production’s financial success, Coco is a beautifully crafted, emotive homage to Mexican culture: our music, food, dress, history and traditions— especially to the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos) celebration that inspired the film’s story.
Even more than financial success, Coco is a beautifully crafted, emotive homage to Mexican culture.
For Coco’s Director, Lee Unkrich, Día de Muertos was at first an intriguingly “odd juxtaposition of skeletal imagery with bright colors and festivities and joyfulness.” In preparation for production, Unkrich made several trips to locations across Mexico. In visits to Oaxaca, Guanajuato, and Mexico City he began to understand the tradition more deeply and “see the potential of telling a story that could be very adventurous and visually dazzling, full of music and color, but could also have a real emotional resonance.”
Paradoxically, Día de Muertos is a celebration of life exactly because it reminds us of just how fragile and short it is. It is a tradition that instills the importance of honoring the memories of our ancestors, the bonds that unite families, and strengthens ties to our roots. It is a day that helps us understand where we come from and who we are.
Although death is a universal theme, few cultures approach it the way we Mexicans do in early November. Coco teaches us that, in remembering those that have left us, we keep them alive.
These messages of family, heritage, life, death, and remembrance, that at the same time are exotic and familiar, resonate throughout the world— especially when they’re conveyed by a film filled with such joy, music, and color. It explains the box office success of this remarkable movie.
There is another paradox in Coco. That while highlighting our customs, it also champions the importance of pursuing dreams and finding our individual “element,” or that point where our natural talent converges with our passion— even if we break with family tradition. This underlying message emphasizes the value of individual freedom; something that Mexicans know how to appreciate.
While highlighting our customs, Coco also champions the importance of pursuing dreams and finding our individual “element.”
Coco evokes the rich culture of Mexico— bringing to the screen characters that remind us of Frida Kahlo, Pedro Infante, and Jorge Negrete, as well as the intricately painted animal “alebrije” figurines, skeletal “catrinas,” vibrant orange marigolds, and cut-out paper “picado” banners that decorate our festivals. Not to mention, that unforgettable memory of a grandmother threatening discipline with her sandal. The years it took to produce this film speak to us in every small detail, perfectly represented.
As a Mexican, I thank Disney-Pixar for this magnificent tribute to our culture, which promotes and honors us. I am also proud to know that for more than two decades, this studio has been an extraordinary partner in several of our TV Azteca initiatives. And, above and beyond this moving and rich celebration of Mexico, Coco communicates the most meaningful lessons and strongest values that I have seen in a long time.