Hebrews 12 contains the famous “great cloud of witnesses” passage, in which the apostle Paul reminds us that the faith journeys we are on are influenced by those who came before us. We’re surrounded by the lives, acts, and spirits of trailblazing believers who worked so that we might be able to continue the kingdom of God. Our influences don’t stop with biblical figures — just as notable people of faith are always with us, so are the family members, artists, justice leaders, and everyday saints who continue to shape our lives and beliefs.
This is the sentiment at the heart of the new Pixar film Coco. Though its release was hampered by the recent allegations against studio head John Lasseter, the film functions beautifully as a unifying reminder of the ways family and legacy influence us.
The film shares the adventure of 12-year-old Miguel, an aspiring musician. Miguel’s dreams, and his idolization of golden age singing star Ernesto de la Cruz, are in direct conflict with his disapproving family. A generations-old family tragedy led to all music being banned from the house, meaning Miguel must hide his natural talent.
On Dia de los Muertos, Miguel visits de la Cruz’s mausoleum in the town cemetery, and is magically transported to the land of the dead. There he meets his ancestors and seeks out a spiritual blessing from his hero, while also trying to get back home to fix a family wrong.
Pixar’s creative teams did extensive research in preparing for Coco, and the devotion shows. References to Mexican music, lore and art fill every frame. The film is also full of bright, creative expressions of what life is like in the land of the dead. Far from a grim place, it’s depicted as full of color, humor, and...well, life. Artists put on wild shows, parties stretch on through the night, and colorful animal spirit guides fly, trot, and crawl alongside their skeletal masters.
But most affecting are the film’s themes about family. Much is made in Coco about memory — specifically, honoring the memory of the people who shaped our past, and who help us to shape the present and the future. While the film’s plot isn’t exactly full of surprises, it does contain beautiful ideas about the presence of our loved ones and ancestors in our lives — the “great cloud of witnesses” that follows and supports us wherever we go.
Coco is a fun, touching movie, one that takes joy in the culture it depicts and invites viewers from other cultures along for the party, in ways both respectful and educational. Star Gael Garcia Bernal has said that the film reminds Latinx children to be proud of their heritage — a heritage that has come under heavy fire since the 2016 election. In this way, Coco functions both as an empowering story for Latinx communities, and as a way to build bridges between cultures. It explores the unique elements that make Mexican culture beautiful and special, and the commonalities that unite us.