I came into the theatre a couple minutes late, but it looked like the movie hadn’t started yet. Not even the trailers. I figured I was lucky and got comfortable near the front. I passed by several Latino families with grandparents and little kids and a few teens. They spoke Spanish to each other trying to coral the kids into calming down before the movie started. But the movie didn’t start. First, my local theatre is the pits. Normally you can see a movie with no problem, but the quality is never guaranteed. Some of the screens have lines running down them giving the entire film a patchwork quality, but to be honest, I’ve come to like it in a rustic sort of way. Second, the customer service is more than lacking. A few minutes turned into ten. Then twenty. We sat there staring at a full white screen with a Chevrolet logo telling us to enjoy the movie we were watching. A few people started stirring in their seats.
I got up and found someone to tell them the movie was late starting. It was a kid and he ran to go get a manager. They came in ten minutes later to tell us the digital key to the hard drive was malfunctioning.
A grandfather says, “Oh dios mio.”
“We can offer you a different movie or a refund or we can wait to try to solve the problem,” this young guy in charge said. I thought, yeah, let’s put on Commuter with Liam Neeson for the kiddos.
I said, “I’m fine with waiting, but instead of a refund, could we get some popcorn?”
“I can refill your bag if you have one.” Bummer.
An older couple asked how long it would be. The young guy said ten to fifteen minutes. They asked if that was for certain or a guess. To which the young man pulled his phone out and made a call asking someone how long it would take.
The kids were getting anxious and the older couple were getting antsy. The grandfather from earlier started saying something I only caught the English bits of like movie, Pixar, and idiots.
Just as the couple got up to go a trailer for the new Jumanji movie came on. It skipped at one point making us all worry what would happen next. We didn’t get to see the Pixar short. And we didn’t see the 20-minute long Olaf show either (thank god). But after a quick “Behind the Scenes” look at how they designed a scene (taking away the awe of what the movie could have used as a reveal), the movie started.
And I know you’ve been waiting for me to get to it, so here it is.
It was beautiful.
It started off with papel picado, a traditional Mexican tissue paper art, telling the story of a woman who wouldn’t take her deserting musician-of-a-husband as the final straw and built up and entire shoe industry to support her family. On and on down the line, Miguel is 12-years-old and in love with music. Oh, you can see where the movie is going very quickly and we’re whisked away into a cultural representation that feels more real than any other animated film on Mexican culture I have ever seen. There’s no outrageous or comedic distortions of the day to day. The animation is so real and detailed that only the stylized Pixar character design makes this film look cartoonish. The family dynamic hits home in ways I wouldn’t have picked up if it weren’t for the families behind me laughing at some of the quick looks and dynamics Miguel’s family share.
When the city of the dead appears, oh my. It was so beautiful (despite the earlier spoiler). A city of lights and water. Spirit animals and flowers. And there was this tone in how everybody reacted to each other that felt warm and comforting. You could feel the care that not only Miguel’s family has, but also that society has for children and life.
I want to tell you what happened. I want to tell you how I felt. I want to tell you the great details of the film and what surprises are in store.
You need to see it yourself.
Lee Unkrich did an amazing job. After Toy Story, he was supposedly terrified of making a film that could be triggered as appropriation. So he took painstaking measures to ensure the film was as accurate a representation as possible. And he nailed it. Near the end of the film’s credits is a list of all the consultants they had for the film. It is extensive. I have never felt more admiration for Mexican culture than I did watching that movie. I had no idea how many things were culturally important. Family. Passion. Respect and reputation. A humbling acknowledgement of mortality and memories. Once the credits reach the end, a dedication to all the past inspirations for the film is centered and a collage of past relatives blooms across the screen.
The grandfather cried. I cried. It felt like we all cried. This movie starts off feeling like it’s a typical adventure. What builds from it is a complex, passionate, and heart-wrenching piece on humanity and the importance of life. I can’t recommend this movie enough. Please, go see Coco.