Oh hey! Have you seen the movie yet? Do you want to? If so, then don’t read this yet.
Come back to it later, because I think Coco is a great film and you should see it (read my review if you haven’t yet). In fact, if you haven’t see Coco yet, some of my points in this article might confuse you. But if you do decide to read this before watching the movie, it will spoil the movie for you. There’s your warning.
Honestly, the reason I’m writing this is not because I think Coco is bad, or even incompetent, but I think Coco chose to play it safe with certain elements of their narrative, and if they actually chose to handle these elements with more maturity, then Coco could’ve had potential to be a 9, or even a 10 out of 10 for me. I genuinely believe that.
Now I don’t do this very often, mainly because I don’t always think of good ideas as to how certain movies could improve. However, my thoughts on how Coco could’ve improved came to me as I was watching the movie.
Now this is just my opinion. If you get through all of this and say, “Steve, your ideas suck”, that’s perfectly fine. You’re wrong, but it’s still perfectly fine. I honestly thought the story is good the way it is (hence why I gave it a 7 out of 10), but here’s how I think it could’ve been better:
Miguel, Héctor, and Ernesto de la Cruz
So the biggest issue I took with the entire movie was Miguel and who his ancestor was.
In the beginning, Miguel discovers that Ernesto de la Cruz is his great great grandfather, the one that abandoned his family for his music career. Of course, this causes the lineage of Miguel to hate music because de la Cruz abandoned the family. Miguel loves music though, so he tries to find de la Cruz in the land of the dead so that he can receive a blessing that allows him to go back to the land of the living, but still be able to pursue music.
Except once Miguel finds him, he quickly discovers the Ernesto de la Cruz is a scumbag who murdered his own best friend, Héctor, so that he could steal Héctor’s book of songs and ideas, and then he uses those ideas to gain fame and fortune.
So far, I’m fine with this. Miguel discovers that the man he once looked up to, the famous star, and his father, is an immoral figure. He’s a phony, he’s vain, and he’s not a man worth being looked up to.
But then the movie decided to throw in a twist that actually, Héctor was Miguel’s great ancestor. Héctor, the great guy who was planning to come back home to his wife and child, was the great great grandfather.
To me, this deflates Miguel’s lesson. It’s the movie’s best attempt to have it both ways. It would have been much better if Ernesto de la Cruz was actually the ancestor, and have Miguel battle with his perceptions more, that someone who he’s related to did something terrible. It makes it more personal.
They could’ve really driven home a theme where Miguel learns how to deal with his great great grandfather’s past, but still accept his love of music, while still realizing that pursuing fame at the expense of family and responsibility can be damaging.
Instead, all Miguel learns was that his idolizing of de la Cruz was just misplaced. He can just idolize Héctor now. This really bummed me out and is the primary reason I couldn’t call this movie more than a 7 out of 10.
Oh Sweet, Sweet Justice
One of the other things I didn’t like was that once Miguel returns to the land of the living, the movie seems to insinuate that everyone in the land of the living now hates Ernesto de la Cruz. The entire town has sites dedicated to Héctor now, and de la Cruz’s sites have been defamed or taken down.
This insinuates that Miguel and his family not only told everyone that Héctor was the real legend, but also that everyone believed them.
I don’t buy it.
The reason I don’t buy it is because not only do I think most people would say, “Oh, so YOUR ancestor made all the music Ernesto de la Cruz sang? Right, whatever.” But even if they could provide substantial proof, I think most people wouldn’t care.
And that’s because there are swaths of celebrities, corporate businessmen, and politicians that have gotten away with worse than de la Cruz and suffered significantly less damage in the eyes of the public. I understand that this would have made the movie more cynical, and thus less child friendly (apparently), but it would have been interesting seeing Miguel and his family deal with the fact that THEY know the truth now, but the statues are still up. The damage has been done. I think that would make for amazing social commentary.
I’m totally fine with Miguel and his family knowing de la Cruz is a phony. I’m totally fine with the land of the dead knowing he was a phony. But the movie would have been better if the world of the living still thought he was an amazing man.
It adds weight to things.
When de la Cruz was getting booed off the stage after his exposure, I think the most villanous line he could have said was, “So you’ve taken away my fame, have you Miguel? Well who cares? The world of the living will adore me for generations! I will never be forgotten! I will be here forever!”
But of course, he instead cowers in fear as the giant flying puma gives him his just deserts. Sweet, sweet justice. Forgettable ending.
One of the biggest missed opportunities that Coco has is that they never utilize any sort of meaningful symbolism with shoes.
An underlying message in Coco is the idea of family vs. fame, and responsibility vs. passion. The guitar is heavily utilized with the ideas of fame and passion. The movie also has shoes, though. Because Imelda denies music because of how it made her husband abandon her. Her response is to embrace family and responsibility by learning how to make shoes. This gets passed on from generation to generation all the way to Miguel, and Miguel hates shoes. This disdain for shoemaking puts him at odds with his family, and thus Miguel denies both family and responsibility.
And then it seems like the movie forgot about the shoes after a while. There’s plenty of symbolism when it comes to the guitar, but no symbolism for the other side.
This is obviously not a big deal, which is why I didn’t put it in my review. But I thought it would have enriched the story of Coco even more if they set shoes as a contrastic symbol.
I think the BEST example of what I was looking for was the picture above. It’s perfect. I wish they had more of that kind of stuff in there instead of forgetting about it a third of the way into the movie.
Imelda Tosses a Softball
There’s a scene where Imelda is chasing after Miguel to try to get him to not go find Ernesto de la Cruz. In this scene, Imelda reveals that she’s a wonderful singer, and that she used to love music. However, the reason that she forsake music and provided for her daughter instead was because
“I followed my passion and he followed his own passion”.
And all I thought was “Wow, what an insincere way to say that.”
The whole movie shows Imelda’s offspring having a deep hatred and distrust of music. This obviously was installed by Imelda, so convincingly that generations of ancestors said that music was a “curse”.
So when Imelda is trying to stop pursuing what she thinks is a “curse”, she just says that her husband “followed his own passion”, instead of something like “abandoned his wife and his child, leaving us to fend for ourselves.”
I can only imagine this wasn’t said because it’s a kid’s movie, and that would’ve been rather cutting.
Some Other Minor Things
— Why does the dog look like a sausage? Seriously, that dog was the ugliest, laziest design I’ve seen in the world. His abnormally sized tongue was an eyesore. I’m not saying he needed to be some sort of lucious, beautiful dog. I’m not even saying they needed to change the dog breed. But it would’ve helped if the design wasn’t so lazy looking.
–When Miguel sings the song for Coco during the last bit so that Coco would remember her father, I thought it went a little too far when they insinuated that the song literally healed her of her dementia. I’m fine with the song reminding Coco of her father. I’m okay with this making her happy. I’m not okay with the fact that suddenly she can form complete sentences and then remember all of her families’ names when she couldn’t remember this entire time.
I mean for all I know, this could actually happen in real life, which is why it didn’t really affect my grade of the movie, but I still thought it was too much sugar coating.
So those are the things I think would’ve made Coco better.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on these if you have any. I’m sure a few people who read this will probably hate my ideas. However, to me, I think stories work better if they have moral weight. Disney is a master at utilizing emotional weight. It is also a master at removing moral weight from movies, and I think it’s a bad thing for storytelling, and it’s a bad thing to do in general.
I think Disney does this for two reasons:
- Moral weight can be scary sometimes, and thus children might have a fearful reaction to their movies.
- I think Disney doesn’t want to offend anyone.
And I mean anyone. I recently heard some schmuck on Twitter say that Coco is “anti-Trump”. It’s not. To say that Coco is “anti-anything” is simply not accurate. It is, like most other Disney movies, pro-certain-things, but it’s not anti-anything. In order to be anti-something, you have to have a bite to your movie. Disney would rather leave their movies toothless, and thus more digestible.