Coco offers a better and deeper message for children than the shopworn “be true to yourself”
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Parents will probably ascertain from the trailers that Pixar’s big PG holiday release, Coco, centers on the Mexican tradition of Dia de los Muertos—Day of the Dead. This could cause concern for some, as the plot involves 12-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) participating in all the myths associated with the holiday, including leaving his living family to visit his long-deceased ancestors in the land of the dead.
Personally, I took my 8-year-old and used it as an opportunity to discuss how the story shows that all cultures have a natural understanding that our souls live on after death, but that there is only one story that stands outside culture to make sense of our longing for eternal life. I’m glad I did. Coco’s rich visual details and splendid Mexican music gave her a newfound enthusiasm for a country she’s been studying in school. Even better, Coco’s main theme, as valuable as it is unusual, serves as a counterweight to a message modern America continually lobs at kids her age.
Miguel longs to be a singer and follow the advice of his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), to “seize his moment” and reach for the stars. Except his family hates music and forbids him from performing. It sounds like the same story we’ve seen before in countless kids’ movies—follow your dreams. Seize the day. Be true to yourself. Eventually your talent will win out and your killjoy family will get with the program. Except that’s not where Coco goes. As Miguel meets his ancestors, he learns that there are many things more precious than your dreams, and following them too hard can make you a monster.
Even more than Up, Coco is a story about honoring our elders and cherishing the contributions they make to our lives. As it builds to it’s surprising twist, Coco becomes one of the most emotionally satisfying tales from a studio that has built a reputation for emotionally satisfying tales.
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