Luckily, the things he insists on playing over and over and over and OVER haven’t been too terrible to begin with (I weep for the parents whose toddlers demand repeats of “Baby Shark” *shudders*) Things like Sesame Street, Mister Rogers Neighborhood, the Muppets singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” (that one has become a bathtime staple for Alex and I still have no idea how it happened).
But lately, his number one go-to has been the Disney/Pixar movie “Coco.” He’s always loved the music from the movie. At bedtime, we sing “Remember Me” or play the lullaby version on our phones to him. But one day while I was looking for something for him and I to watch together, he pointed at “Coco” on the Disney+ screen and we’ve just been watching it over and over for weeks now. Even more so now that I’ve been on maternity leave with baby Charlotte.
(As an aside - I’ve also noticed that Lottie calms down considerably when “Remember Me” is played - whether from the movie or if I sing it. Never let it be said that my children do not have good taste).
Here’s the thing: when you watch something so many times over and over again, your brain either goes completely bonkers, or you actually start thinking about it. Luckily, “Coco” is such a great movie and a well-written story that it lends itself quite well to being thought about. As such, I’ve had a few thoughts on the story that may or may not have been discussed by others, but I wanted to get them out there to share.
Thus, this blog post.
Before I delve into my take on a few things, some housekeeping. This might not be strictly necessary, seeing as this movie has been out for a little over two years. But the discussion from here on out is going to assume that you’ve seen the movie. No attempt will be made to avoid spoilers, mostly because my analysis of this story depends on going over key plot points. So if you still haven’t seen “Coco,” you’d better go get a copy of it or fire it up on Disney+ or do something to remedy that.
The first and biggest thing that I’ve realized about this movie is how the big reveal is constructed, even down to the smallest details. In the scene after Miguel breaks the picture frame with the family photo of Mama Imelda, young Coco, and Coco’s father (with his head conveniently torn off), Miguel jumps to the conclusion that his great-great-grandfather is the famous singer Ernesto de la Cruz.
As far-fetched as that is - and it’s a HUGE instance of Miguel having delusions of grandeur - it actually makes a ton of sense for Miguel to come to that conclusion.
All discussion of music has been banned from the Rivera family for years. Anything remotely connected to music is taboo. Look at the family’s reaction to Miguel just going to the plaza and shining a musician’s shoes. Look at Abuelita yelling at random passersby just for singing within her hearing!
So of course the rest of the family would probably have no idea who Ernesto de la Cruz is. After all, as Miguel’s father says after Miguel proudly proclaims that he knows who his great-great-grandfather is -
"We've never known anything about this man!"
Tell me you don’t see the layers of irony in that statement. It doesn't matter if Miguel's father is referring to Ernesto de la Cruz, or to Miguel's actual great-great-grandfather (because of course they are different people). Yes, you’ve never known anything about this man - because no one in the family ever talks about him! They don't talk about music, true, so that takes care of the de la Cruz angle. But I'm not worried about him. Any discussion of this particular ancestor is completely verboten, to the point that the man has practically been villainized to his descendants, even though his actions really didn’t impact them personally.
And, as it turns out, Miguel's real great-great-grandpa was actually a pretty upstanding guy whose one big mistake snowballed beyond his control (but I'm getting ahead of myself).
Let’s look at why Miguel assumes that his ancestor is de la Cruz. Other than Miguel is a MASSIVE de la Cruz fanboy (be honest - you’d feel the same if it turned out you were related to a celebrity that you idolized). A huge part of that is, again, Miguel knows nothing about his great-great-grandfather. Simply mentioning that such a man existed gets you the stink-eye from Abuelita Elena (and it is quickly established that she is not a woman to be trifled with). So Miguel just avoids the subject altogether. But it’s clear that he’s probably thought about it to himself.
Miguel has very little information to go on. He knows his ancestor was a musician who wanted to play for the world and who left his family in order to achieve that dream. The moment Miguel discovers that his great-great-grandfather owned a distinctive guitar that looks exactly like the one Ernesto de la Cruz made famous - well, can you blame him for jumping to that conclusion? Who else would that guitar belong to?
Point being: No one can fault Miguel for coming to the conclusion that he initially comes to because that's all the information that he has. It's terrible information, but it's all there is.
Now I’m going to dovetail away from “Coco” for a bit, but it does relate. We’ve been researching my family history for a long time, going back even from the time before I was born. Consequently, my family tree is pretty well filled up going back centuries. Except for one big hole that ends with my great-great-great-grandfather. He was born in the mid-1800s. We know when he was married, when he died, who his wife and kids were - but we don’t know who his parents were, where he was born, if he had any siblings... hell, we’re not even sure if the year given as his birthdate is correct.
According to my grandmother (which is information she got from her mother, so already we have to rely on unreliable narrators), this guy had a penchant for telling outlandish stories about his past and nobody really knows what was true and what was made up. He talked about serving in the Civil War, being press-ganged onto a pirate ship, traveling across the country on a train, and a bunch of other things that I’m not remembering. And it’s incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to piece together your family tree and the information you have is probably crap. Kind of like the information Miguel has about his ancestor.
I even talked with a co-worker at the library who has spent a good deal of her professional life helping people do their genealogy and even she was stumped. For one thing, he couldn’t have served in the Civil War because the birthdate we have for him (that could be wrong, admittedly) means that he would have been far too young to have been a soldier. Even the town listed as his birthplace never even existed - at least not in any reputable records we could find.
How does this relate to the story in “Coco”? Sure, you might be ticked off at something some family member did and decide that this person needs to be written out of your family history entirely. Or you might want to make your life out to be more interesting than it really was. But think about your descendants and what if one (or more) of them decides they want to trace their ancestors, but they don’t have the information they need or they don’t have any stories about one of their relatives.
And that’s really the driving force behind this story. There’s even a throwaway line that Miguel says to Dante - “You knew he was my Papa Hector the whole time!”
The movie doesn’t dwell on it too much, but it’s clear that Dante is meant to be Miguel’s guiding spirit who helps Miguel discover the truth about his great-great-grandpa. And not just discover the truth, but to also help mend the broken family ties - to reinstate Hector as part of the Rivera family and make sure his side of the story gets told.
|The "plain old dog" who becomes the hero of the story!|
Now, one small criticism of “Coco” that I’ve heard isn’t really a criticism of the movie itself, but of other Disney movies that have been released in recent years. That of the “Surprise Villain” trope. However, I am going to defend its use in “Coco” because this story is dependent on characters who only have a fraction of the true story. And unlike many of those other surprise villains in other Disney movies (Hans from Frozen, King Candy from Wreck-it Ralph, Callaghan from Big Hero 6), we never meet de la Cruz himself while his character is being established. We learn about de la Cruz from Miguel’s opening narration and when Miguel is playing his guitar and watching his “Best of de la Cruz” video. Because Miguel is a fanboy who worships the man. When we meet de la Cruz in person, it’s during a huge party in the Land of Dead that Miguel had to sneak into. And it’s not long after this meeting that it’s revealed just what a huge piece of crap he is.
Then again, if you’re looking for examples of de la Cruz’s selfishness, they aren’t hard to find even before the reveal. The man is regarded as the greatest musician of all time - yet he never goes back to his hometown? And if he really was Miguel’s great-great-grandfather and he was the man who left his family to chase his dream - why wouldn’t he come back home after he’s become rich and famous? The answer - because he’s a jerk. He as much tells Miguel this in the movie, when he explains that he is too big for just one family and that the world is his family. And that makes it totally okay to take off and leave his wife and daughter.
Yeah, thinking about it - I'm glad that it turned out that Hector was really Miguel's ancestor and that he legitimately tried to go back to Imelda and Coco. Even without the proclivity toward premeditated murder in de la Cruz's character, Hector is truly "a total upgrade," as Miguel puts it.
Yeah, the signs were all there. Miguel was just too star-struck to look for them.
Anyway, those are my thoughts on “Coco.” But I do want to list my favorite lines from the movie, just because the writing in this film is just so great. In fact, most of these lines are ones that Alex insists I say along with the characters because I repeat them so much and he’s realized that’s what I’m doing (not to brag or anything, but I have a smart kid) -
Mariachi: Ay yi yi, muchacho. I asked for a shoe shine, not your life story!
Abuelita: Never name a street dog. They’ll follow you everywhere. Now, go get my shoe.
Departures Agent: Sorry, señora it says here no one put up your photo.
Mamá Imelda: My family always, ALWAYS puts my photo on the ofrenda
[pulls off her shoe and begins beating the computer]
Mamá Imelda: That devil box tells you nothing but lies!
Clerk: [sneezes] I am terribly allergic.
Miguel: But Dante doesn't have any hair.
Clerk: And I don't have a nose, and yet, here we are.
Héctor: [singing for Chicharrón] Well everyone knows Juanita / Her eyes each a different color / Her teeth stick out / and her chin goes in / and her...
Héctor: ... knuckles, they drag on the floor.
Chicharrón: Those aren't the words!
Héctor: [aside] There are children present.
Mamá Imelda: [Smacks Ernesto with her shoe] That's for murdering the love of my life!
Ernesto de la Cruz: [Confused] Who the...?
Héctor: She's talking about me!
Héctor: I’m the love of your life?
Mamá Imelda: I don't know, I am still angry at you!
And, of course, the beautiful scene at the end when Miguel sings “Remember Me” to Mama Coco and Coco telling the family all about her papa and handing Miguel the missing corner of the family photo from the ofrenda.
Though I don’t get teary until the next part when Hector is shown being allowed to travel to the Land of the Living on the next Dia de los Muertos and he’s going there with his wife and daughter and their whole family. TEARS, you guys. (Hector’s kind of become my favorite Pixar character, not gonna lie.)
Those are some of my (admittedly, scattered) thoughts about this wonderful little movie. If you have any comments or thoughts of your own, feel free to add them below! I'd love to read what you all come up with.