“Coco”: a real look at an afterlife, where you can die again if you really are forgotten


Coco”, Pixar’s latest “real-life animation” opus, directed by Lee Unkrich (author of the original story) and Adrian Molina, hits two philosophical areas (admitting some intersectionality) pretty hard.

The most interesting of these is a physical presentation of the afterlife, and the assertion that someone has eternal life as long as at least one person on Earth remembers the person.  (It’s sort of “the right to be forgotten” in reverse.) That would occur either through content the person produced (especially music), or (for more people) descendants in the biological extended family, the common idea of vicarious immortality (which accounts for a lot of homophobia and now trans-phobia). The second idea follows, that participation in the extended family is mandatory for everyone, that guarantee gives more meaning to the family, which is viewed as only as strong as its weakest link.

The hero, 12-year old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) has been told by his family, especially grandma, that music is forbidden and that his life is mapped out for him in the family business, real-world shoe making. (There’s no Internet.) On an annual “Day of the Dead” (“Dia de los Muertos”), gandma smashes his guitar.  In a complicated sequence, Miguel breaks into the tomb area of an ancestral troubadour, trying to find a guitar, and accidentally takes the “bridge” to the Afterlife.  The deal is he can stay alive only if he returns by dawn.

Now the Afterlife, if not exactly heaven, is an interesting place.  It comprises toroidal columns of roads and houses floating in space, connected by bridges, with an occasional theater hall.  There is a kind of crude metro train that runs between the “chandeliers”.  The people look like skeletons nicely dressed, and Miguel has to undergo that transformation.  We hope it’s temporary. There’s also a bottomless well, and other traps. You have to pass through TSA-like security to get in.  The entire dominion reminds one of Clive Barker’s depiction of “The First Dominion” toward the end of his 1991 novel “Imajica” (and that dominion, along with “God”, gets destroyed at the end of the novel).

Now the family is headed by Miguel’s great grandma Coco (Ana Orfelia Murguia), impressively built as a character, and descending into Alzheimer’s – a development which threatens the memories and immortality of people already passed to this other “Dominion”. It’s not too much of a spoiler to say that music will restore some of her mind. (There’s reason to think that this works medically with real dementia patients – sounds like a volunteer or career opportunity.)   The family hates music because a great great grandfather left his wife and became an itinerant singer and then got killed in a freak accident when a bell found on him.

Once in the Dominion, Miguel encounters a murder mystery, as a family member Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) had been murdered by an imposter (whom Miguel felt upwardly affiliated to) who in fact stole all Hector’s songs (like copyright infringement).  There is a script line about having to “fake it” that sounds borrowed from Reid Ewing’s “other” song for “Modern Family”, “Imagine Me Naked”, which works better if you are a healthy 23 year old than if you’ve become a skeleton or nullianac in the First Dominion.  The end credit song in this movie is “Remember Me” (by Kristen Anderson-Loprz), which could almost fit into “Modern”.

The feature is preceeded by an animated short “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure” (21 min, directed by Kevin Deters and Stevie Wermer) as kind of epilogue to “Frozen”.  The main song seems to be “Together”. But Trump uses that word.  Vox reports that this “short” is not going over well with audiences.

Name: “Coco”
Director, writer:  Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1 (short is 1.85:1), 3D
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, larger auditorium, near sell-out on Black Friday afternoon
Length:  106
Rating:  PG
Companies:  Walt Disney Pictures, Pixar
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, Nov. 24, 2017 at 9 PM EDT)