By Manuel Betancourt
For many of us, “Remember Me” (which is played for laughs and establishes the dashing musical icon Ernesto De La Cruz as the kind of cartoonish Pedro Infante of Coco’s world) is precisely what we worried would happen when the Emeryville studio greenlit a “Día de Los Muertos” film – and even tried to copyright that title! Wouldn’t the studio that made toys come alive no doubt fail at capturing what it is that makes this Mexican holiday so special? Wouldn’t it just dress it up in culturally tone-deaf representations that signal “Mexicanness” all the while betraying the fact that it was made by and for Anglos? Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth.
And not just because we can point to the large number of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans that poured their hearts into the film. Coco knows very well that the story it’s telling – of a young boy who finds himself stranded in the Land of Dead and needs to get a blessing from his ancestors in order to return to the land of the living where he’ll have to give up his dreams of following in De La Cruz’s footsteps – is rooted in the spirit of the celebration, on family and destiny, on one’s originality and devotion. Shaded with an attention to detail that remains astounding (the deep-cut Frida Kahlo jokes are A+ as is the playful use of alebrijes), Coco is not (just) the flashy mariachi version of “Remember Me” but also its pared-down, family-sung rendition – a lullaby that will bring you to tears by the sheer power of its emotions and the beauty of its message.
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