“Coco,” the 2017 hit cartoon feature revolving around Mexico’s Día de Muertos traditions, is back in local movie theaters, bringing up renewed reflections on the country’s core family values.
The visually spectacular computer-animated Pixar production, released by Walt Disney Pictures, received rave reviews both in this country and the United States, attesting to the film’s esthetic quality and strong fidelity to this country’s cherished customs and way of life. That was the payoff from the production team’s three years of background research entailing exploration in many parts of the Republic.
Mexican parents generally liked the movie for its endearing characters and accurate representation of the most distinctive national holiday. On the other hand, I have encountered some negative commentaries voiced by north-of-the-border moms and dads who found the content too violent and frightening for their precious offspring. That sort of response underscores a fundamental cultural difference between the two countries.
Most Mexican kids are exposed to death in the raw from an early age. Experiences may begin with peering into the coffin of a deceased grandparent laid out for a wake held inside a family home. After sitting through the typical funeral mass, they frequently stand by in the cemetery as relatives dig the grave and then watch closely as the body of a loved one is laid to rest.
I believe people here are not inclined to recur to grief counseling because they live it full tilt in the immediate aftermath of death and have the opportunity to release pent-up pain through Día de Muertos observances.
Coco’s storyline highlights Mexico’s deep appreciation for music as an integral aspect of daily life and moments of festivity, and a channel for expressing emotions. It’s no coincidence that the setting is a village called Santa Cecilia — a tribute to the patron saint of musicians — and a plot revolving around a boy named Miguel who is fixated on becoming a guitar-strumming singer.
The reason the youngster’s ambition is scorned by his family is explained as the film moves towards a happy-end resolution. In summary, Miguel is finally encouraged to follow his dreams. The message boils down to the line “We may have our differences, but nothing is more important than family.”
In watching Coco, we see that putting up a memorial altar is a palpable way to express love and honor for those who have passed on. In theory and practice Los Muertitos are enticed to reunite with their survivors once a year with an offering of familiar flavors, aromas and assorted objects that stir the memory of earthly pleasures. Many elements of the ofrenda have symbolic meanings tied to Mexico’s pagan and Christian roots
The moral of the story is that no one truly dies as long as they are remembered by somebody in the world that was left behind.
The Day of the Dead is an opportune occasion to build some sort of physical or mental memorial altar to revive the spirit of every beloved friend and relative who has given you a head start to the great beyond, crossing over that dazzling marigold bridge depicted in Coco.