Spoilers abound. But since I could be the last person in the whole world who has seen this movie, I don't think it matters. (If you somehow haven't watched it, Coco is currently streaming on Netflix.)
This movie talks about things that are meaningful to me—the importance of music, animals, and family; of finding out as much about your history as you can; and of the connections that still exist between the living and the dead.
I was delighted with this film from the opening note. We hear the traditional Disney theme, but this time a mariachi band plays the song. The narrator proceeds to tell us the history of a family in Mexico. We hear of a villain and a heroine—a man deserts his family to become a musician, and the mother learns to provide for everyone through making shoes—and the oath/curse that comes out of this struggle—“No one in this family shall play music.” This is a problem for our main character, Coco, a teenage boy who longs to be a musician.
The story takes place on the Day of the Dead, a Mexican holiday that I wish Americans also celebrated, where families put up altars in their homes and place pictures of their ancestors there. They put out the favorite food of the loved ones that have passed away. In this tradition, the spirits of the dead can come back on this day to be with their loved ones who remember them.
Things come to a head. Coco is told he is now old enough to start working in the family business, making shoes. He announces that he plans to play music in the town talent show that evening. The grandmother discovers his guitar and breaks it in anger. Coco runs out the house, determined to follow his dream, starting with playing in that talent show.
Throughout the film, Coco must now face a series to challenges to see if he can accomplish what he has set out to do. It starts with a fairly simple problem—“Where will I find a guitar?”—and then escalates to “Help! I have crossed over to the spirit world, and I need permission from one of my ancestors to come back before the Day of the Dead is over.”
I loved that, through his journey, Coco was accompanied by animals who comforted and often saved him. I'm currently writing a novel about an afterlife, and I enjoyed all the customs and protocols and details of this strange new world. And I was genuinely surprised by some of the twists in the story.
During his time with the spirits, Coco learns more about his family. His perceptions change. His allegiances shift. When he does return, he is able to come back with more knowledge about his family legacy that he can share with others. In the end, his family is at peace, joyous. They now love Coco's music. The history has been healed. What more can we ask for?