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Disney’s Coco Delivers on the Hype (Despite a Couple Mixed Messages)

Catholic-perspective review on Disney and Pixar's Coco

Basically, when you hear that a movie is Pixar, you know it’s good (we’ll forget about Cars 2 for a moment). Most of the time, Disney Pixar movies are pretty much always miles above any other animated film out there.

So I had some pretty big expectations when we watched Coco the other day. Especially since this one seemed to feature Catholicism too!

And I’ve gotta say, it gets off to a bit of a slow start. Not so much cinematically or in the level of entertaining-ness, but more in a, “What exactly is the message here, people?” kind of way. By the end, though, it definitely reaches a Pixar quality of lovely, good-themed, happy ending.

The Slightly Confusing Premise

So it centers around a young boy in Mexico named Miguel. He has a huge, loving family with a rich history — a history that includes a past hurt caused by a musician. So obviously, music of any kind is anathema in the family.

This is a problem for Miguel, because he loves music. He dreams of being a great musician, and he’s even taught himself to play guitar by watching old videos of his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz.

We meet this little guy right as his whole community is beginning to prepare for Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead — or as those of us outside of Mexican culture probably know it, the feast of All Souls. This is where the movie could start to get confusing for those who don’t know anything about the Catholic faith (or small kids still learning).

Typical of the basic Disney storyline, this movie has its own magical elements. Which is fine, but theirs is a little wound up with the reality of Catholic belief and practice. In the world of Coco, people put pictures of their dead relatives up each year on this day so their dead relatives can return to earth and visit them. And then, a series of misadventures leads Miguel to accidentally fall into this spirit world of his ancestors, who happen to all be trying to come back across to earth this night. 

So the premise is mostly fantasy fun, but there’s probably at least a little danger of confusion over what Catholics actually believe about the afterlife.

There’s Some Good Stuff Here

When I’d first seen the trailer for this movie, I admit I was a little hesitant to watch it, on a purely personal level, because it seemed to be about a boy who had impossible dreams to become successful and even famous in the highly competitive field of music. As a struggling screenwriter, that felt a little too close to home for me. But it turns out that this element is a pretty small part of the story.

At the start of the story, it looks like Miguel’s love of music and keeping the love of his family will be completely incompatible. And as someone myself who would feel like a part of me would die to either give up my family or my dreams, I had no idea where they were going with this storyline. 

Rest assured, though, it ends positively for both family and dreams, in a much less cliched or predictable way than I would have guessed. 

There’s also plenty of fun, visual dazzle, catchy songs, and unexpected plot twists. The typical Pixar goodness we’ve come to expect.

Other Moral Concerns

It’s rated PG for thematic elements, and that feels right.

There are lots of skeletons and some comedic violence that could frighten some younger viewers. There is quite a bit of discussion of a past husband/father desertion, but the ending shows that the guy made quite a mistake. 

And then, some might think this is a small issue, but I was struck by little Miguel’s dishonesty. Without really looking for it, I noticed him blatantly lying or going back on a promise seconds after making it more than once. Sure, he’s just a mischievous little kid trying to follow his dreams, but it felt to me like a little too flippant an attitude toward honesty and integrity at times. 

Over All

It’s not a perfect film, and we might wish that Catholicism’s first time in a major animated motion picture was actually Catholicism and not a fantasy revolving around a small part of it. But there are a lot of positive elements here too.

The ending made me cry (what Pixar ending doesn’t? Especially when I’m pregnant…), and my kids enjoyed it quite a bit. While it might require a little outside parental explanation for young Catholic viewers, Coco is a pretty good choice for a family movie night. 





One thought on “Disney’s Coco Delivers on the Hype (Despite a Couple Mixed Messages)

  1. This is a great review! I had similar thoughts when I finally watched it recently. I don’t know much about actual real-life traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos, but I kind of didn’t love the fantasy feel of it. I’m sure most kids aren’t going to think deeply about what it says about afterlife, but definitely agree it might take some outside clarification: I wouldn’t want kids to feel guilty that their ancestors might disappear if we forget them. But overall, I totally agree the animation (and music!) were really good.

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