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'Coco': An authentic experience on both sides of the border




In “Coco,” the bridge to the Land of the Dead is divided by a checkpoint, where those who have died must pass a facial screening to ensure someone still remembers them on the other side.
In “Coco,” the bridge to the Land of the Dead is divided by a checkpoint, where those who have died must pass a facial screening to ensure someone still remembers them on the other side.
Pixar

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Pixar’s smash hit, “Coco,” has passed the $400 million mark at the global box office, and it hasn’t even opened in several large foreign markets.

In Mexico, where the film is set — and centered on the Day of the Dead holiday — “Coco” has become one of that country’s biggest-ever successes at the multiplex.  

Los Angeles-based journalist Daniel Hernandez has strong ties to Mexico. He spent several years there as a correspondent for the Vice network. And he was recently in Mexico City, where he saw “Coco” to get a grasp on the film’s popularity.

I saw “Coco” in Mexico before it premiered in the United States. I knew I was in for something special when the Uber driver taking us to the theater said she had already seen it five times. Her children were fascinated by the film, and she said she felt a connection to Mexican customs, even though she herself didn’t really practice them.

It’s an amazing film. The inherently magical place that is Mexico comes alive in spectacular animation that is overflowing with Mexican iconography.

Pixar appears to take every effort to not trivialize or misrepresent any aspect of Día de los Muertos.

The film makes absolute sense in Spanish, and I was actually worried about what it would sound and feel like seeing it in English back here in L.A. But, in a testament to that commitment to authenticity by Pixar, the film easily rolled into my ear in English. The sprinkling of Spanish phrases was artfully smart, funny and supportive to the narrative.

“Coco”, in any language, is a remarkable fable — a lesson in family, mortality, and memory.

It is also a politically subversive work, thanks to a storyline that reads like an analogy for the U.S.-Mexico border. In “Coco,” the bridge from our world to the Land of the Dead is divided by a checkpoint, where those who have died must pass a facial screening to ensure someone still remembers them on the other side. 

The scene mimics the Immigration and Customs Enforcement entry checkpoint at the Tijuana border of today. The similarity is that the bridge to the living and the border to the United States can divide families and, frequently, it has done so unfairly.

Now, taking the analogy to a politically logical conclusion may be asking too much from an animated film geared to children. By the end of the movie, everyone still passes through the checkpoint to leave the Land of the Dead, accepting the overall structure of the boundary.

However, there’s a greater idea at play when we realize that the bridge is crossable at all.

The line between living and dead, in the world of “Coco,” is not a place to be feared, but a pathway of marigold petals to cross once a year — happily — with your friends and family.

That’s a powerful message for small children who might be confronting the concept of death for the first time. And maybe it is also an analogy, in reverse, for the kind of happier border we’d want over here in the land of the living.

 



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