Last night Toby and I headed down the mountain to the single screen theater in Telluride. It was our first time there, even though we have walked past the historic building many, many times. Standing in line outside (very tiny vestibule) I saw a simple printed sheet of 8 1/2x11 taped to the window - it read:
Coco - Wednesday and Thursday
Free? Surely not. As we got closer and could hear others going in after being welcomed and handed a raffle ticket, both Toby and I looked at one another. Free? What's the catch? Is this a group event we are crashing? Our big city brains could not process it being FREE, with no strings.
Yet it was. And our jaded, suspicious hearts opened a bit more. Popcorn in hand, we headed into the most quaint cinema I have experienced. Not large by any means, but the history could be felt in this building erected in 1892, originally to house a bank, offices, and a grocery store.
Settling in with our popcorn, we watched the Frozen Olaf short - adorable, but I have to agree with the masses - much too long. They literally squished a feature film's worth of songs into 22 minutes. The short, always destined for a short run is being pulled as of today.
Again, it was sweet, funny, and had an all inclusive message, but that big city, jaded heart of mine has to wonder if part of its placement in front of Coco was to buffer this being Pixar's first completely Hispanic animated feature length film, acted by a completely non-white cast, with its roots completely in Mexican culture and tradition.
Trust me, even in this increasingly bigoted US of A, Coco did not need this "help." The movie is strong, meaningful, educational and stands alone just fine.
But back to the warm, fuzzy feelings my first foray into my small town theater had stoked...
Toby and I sat back, our Grinchy little hearts having grown another size, and the emotional ride began.
Coco tells the story of a little boy, Miguel, whose heart beats as only a natural musician's can. Music fills his soul, ignites his spirit, yet is a passion he can only indulge in secret. His family scorns music - a sad tradition that goes back generations to a broken heart.
As his Mexican town, and all the families within, prepare for El Día de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead), he finds himself magically transported to the land of the dead where he meets many of his passed relatives whose names and faces he knows from the ofrenda (collection of photo memories and offerings) in his home.
I admit, my knowledge of Day of the Dead observances and traditions was cursory. I knew of it, the painted faces, the honoring of dead relatives, the festivity, not sadness of the day. And while Coco manages to weave a solid tapestry from what has morphed through the centuries into many variations on the day and how it is observed, I found my enjoyment at viewing was also drenched in welcome education.
As for the animation, it is stunning. Sitting next to my child whose lifeblood is digital art, I constantly saw him excitedly twitch at certain sequences, draw in his breath at overwhelming graphics. To the layperson like me, it is simply beautiful, magical. To someone like Toby, his appreciation goes far beyond aesthetics because he understands the talent, the techniques, the hours that go into even the smallest of detail.
That alone would be enough to pull us both back for a second viewing, but what we loved most of all was the message of the story and the unapologetic way it did not try to soften the Hispanic homage by the addition of a white best friend or a line here and there worked in to explain a Spanish word.
We loved that A LOT.
Coco is about family. It is about the ties and traditions that bind our now to our past. It is about remembering our loved ones because that is how they stay "alive." It is about how those who came before, shape and inform who we are today.
That Pixar managed to animate a story like this with mostly skeletons? Well, I raise my ulna lofted copa to them. It is neither gruesome nor scary. The skeletal, dead loved ones, dressed in their favorite attire from life, are gentle, friendly, eager, and most of all, simply wish to be remembered. Sure, there is the needed antagonist in the afterlife who complicates things for Miguel, but even his comeuppance is handled well.
Coco is magical. It is uplifting. And it brings you to happy tears through the universal human emotion of love.
This movie had already broken box office records in Mexico a full month ago. And my theater had more than a few Hispanic children and families in attendance. Why is this important? I'll tell you.
As the mother of a transgender son, I know firsthand how important seeing yourself in various forms of media and expression can be. These children who sat around me last night were experiencing something profound - in a country where so many would shout at them to "Go back where you came from!", they were seeing their history, their traditions, their language, their life play out on a big screen.
But when it was over? What makes us all the same was evident - our laughter, our tears, our humanity were on full display. Walking out of the theater, we were all smiling at one another. We were all wiping tears away as we silently nodded our understanding and connection to one another.
I have no doubt there are many in this country who will get their shorts in a twist over a movie excluding them. But my hope is that when they find themselves in the theater next to their child or grandchild who begged to be taken, they let that wall around their hearts crack just enough to experience what I write about here all the time:
Strip away our melanin, our accents, our fears, and our learned prejudices, and we are all the same. We are people who love, hurt, rejoice, laugh, cry, and want desperately to matter and be remembered when we are gone.
Felicidades, Coco. Eres mucho más que una caricatura.