The Impact of Coco, and its Oscar-winning song, “Remember Me [Recuérdame].”
AND YES. THERE ARE SPOILERS. IT’S BEEN 4 YEARS.
It’s Halloween season, and I could talk about the 20th anniversary of my favorite Pixar film of all time, Monsters Inc, and how it probably gave me the dream of being a gay dad who loves musical theatre. But that goes without saying.
There’s another Pixar film that is clearly of the Halloween season, and since I mostly talk about musicals and music is a little more integral to the plot of this film, I figure I’ll talk about Coco.
Coco is more of a Dia de Los Muertos film and it is very specific to Mexico [Pixar tends to be a rare departure from Disney in terms of actually nailing the specifics of other countries/cultures rather than just mashing a bunch together like in Aladdin]. That said, Coco’s themes and spirituality spoke to me as I’m sure they spoke to many others.
While for some, the Halloween season is a time for costumes, or candy, or monsters/other extraordinary beings, for others, it’s a connection with those we’ve lost.
Memory is a topic addressed throughout the Pixar canon, but in Coco, it’s such a central piece of the plot. In this world, to be forgotten is to die a second time, permanently.
In order for a spirit to visit the living, they must be accounted for by having a loved one place their picture on an ofrenda, or a shrine, for those who don’t know Spanish.
The protagonist, Miguel, comes from a family that has deliberately tried to cut his great-great-grandfather out after he abandoned his great-great-grandmother, Mama Imelda, and great-grandmother, Mama Coco. <- that’s the name of the movie!
Mama Imelda made a rule to never have music around the family, to forget the great-great-grandfather, who was a musician. This also speaks to how oral tradition can be carried on or forgotten, whereas the family business, shoes, leaves behind more physical evidence.
Miguel, being a rebel, has a secret hidden collection of music, all of which belongs to this star, Ernesto de la Cruz. Based on the cut-out photo of his great-great-grandfather, he believes he’s descended from de la Cruz. His family finds out that he makes music and tries to get him to stop. He then runs away and goes on a mission in the spirit world to become a music star and meet Ernesto, de la Cruz.
When he gets there, he meets a man named Hector, who is desperate to get back to the living world, though we don’t know why. He’s denied the right because he isn’t on any ofrenda and hasn’t been on one. The last person living to remember him is beginning to forget him, at which point, his spirit will disappear, and he’ll die again.
Miguel learns that Hector is his true great-great-grandfather and that de la Cruz murdered him and took his music. This means Hector never abandoned his family. He was killed. Miguel helps Hector reconcile with Mama Imelda, brings back the picture of Hector, and sings Mama Coco, the song that Hector wrote for her [that de la Cruz got rich and famous off of]. Mama Coco has dementia, but she remembers him and tells stories about him to the family before she passes, at which point they are reunited at last. Miguel makes sure that Hector’s photo stays on the ofrenda so that the family can remain reunited again at last, and he is finally free to pursue music.
Even putting aside the scientific evidence that music helps with memory in people with dementia, this is a beautiful story with a beautiful ending.
Ok, so I’m crying already, we all are, but here’s the scene:
English words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgmgZmTMxms
Though I have to say goodbye
Don’t let it make you cry
For even if I’m far away
I hold you in my heart
I sing a secret song to you
Each night we are apart
Though I have to travel far
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you
The only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
Spanish words: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBewjGL-pNw
Hoy me tengo que ir, mi amor
No llores, por favor
Te llevo en mi corazón y cerca me tendrás
A solas yo te cantaré, soñando en regresar
Aunque tengo que emigrar
Si mi guitarra oyes llorar
Ella con su triste canto te acompañará
Hasta que en mis brazos tu estés
“Remember Me” repeats throughout the film in different ways, but that’s the one where it comes together with the plot. It’s the best contemporary Pixar song by a long shot and one of the best Disney songs, period.
Happy Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos to those who celebrate, and if you DO ever want to hear more of my thoughts on Monsters Inc, ask!