Coco Premiere Creates an Emotional and Authentic Depiction of Día de Muertos


This Día de Muertos-themed movie contains astounding animation and visuals. 

Laughing, gasping and acting like tears aren’t streaming down my face – these are the main things I do whenever I watch a Pixar movie. A part of me always prefers live-action as opposed to animation, believing for some reason that my emotions and engagement can only be stirred by seeing “real people.” Pixar films prove me wrong almost every single time. With hits like Inside Out, Finding Dory and now Coco, Pixar continues to win our hearts and maintain its streak of success; if you ask me, buying Pixar was one of the best decisions Walt Disney Pictures ever made. 

Coco takes place on Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), in the fictional Mexican village of Santa Cecilia. The protagonist is Miguel Rivera, a 12-year-old boy who dreams of being a musician, like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz. Unfortunately, Miguel’s family has a bad history with music and expects him to continue their shoe-making business. Unwilling to give up his passion, Miguel decides to enter the local talent show – and breaks into Ernesto de la Cruz’s tomb to borrow his guitar. Upon strumming it, he enters the Land of the Dead, and can only return to the living with the help of his deceased ancestors. 

The visuals are vibrant, colorful and beautiful, in line with the celebratory holiday itself. The portrayal of the Land of the Dead is particularly aesthetically pleasing, with dazzling spirals of ascending houses. While the film does have its moments of humor, I wouldn’t describe it as comedic. Nonetheless, the film’s lack of comedy is made up for with its rich, meaningful narrative. The story keeps you guessing until the end, and the result is overwhelmingly heartwarming and satisfying. It’s also significant that the entire vocal cast is Latino, unlike The Book of Life, for instance, a 2014 animated film also set on Día de Muertos. 

Diverse representation is sadly still rare in Hollywood, but Coco shows that Pixar is finally stepping up to the plate. Through its characters, visuals and story, the film pays homage to Mexican culture in a way that respects it rather than exoticizes it. The background of Día de  los Muertos provides a space for the display of cultural values as well, such as family, music and, of course, the memory of deceased loved ones. With references to things like ofrendas (offerings for the altar), cenote pits and alebrijes (fantastical folk art sculptures), the film doesn’t skimp out on details either, making it all the more authentic. 

If you do see Coco in theaters, do not be discouraged by the incredibly long Frozen short that precedes the film (although this short will be removed on December 8). Keep watching, because (trust me), the main feature is worth it. It certainly helps for audience members to know a little Spanish to understand some of the dialogue, but regardless of language, the film appeals to everyone of all ages and backgrounds. My friends and I each admitted to crying – so don’t be surprised when your heartstrings are played as well as the guitars are. Enjoy the emotional roller coaster, and hold on tight!

Contact Gloria Han at [email protected].