The familiar Disney castle appears in the opening credits of Pixar’s Coco but instead of the orchestra instrumental, the intro mixes in a beautiful mariachi medley.
That was just the first of many surprise touches that had my family and many other Latinos in the audience smiling and laughing. We had no idea this story about a Mexican boy who goes on a journey on Dia de Los Muertos to find his ancestors would pull at our heartstrings the way it did.
When I looked over later in the film and saw mi papa crying in the theater, I knew that this movie hit a real emotional chord.
My father, like many Mexican dads, prides himself in being a macho — and machos will tell you they don’t cry. My dad is a stern, stocky man who knows how to fix just about everything in the house and on cars, but he’s not good at talking about his feelings or showing them.
This new film, with its strong focus on Latino family values, reveals the soft spot that even machos find can make them cry.
Latino characters for so long have been reduced to stereotypes in movies for cheap laughs — from maids or lowrider-loving cholo characters — largely missing nuances that really matter to the community. Our family, traditions and language are foundations of pride.
It was the first time Pixar focused on a Mexican family. The symbolism throughout the film is unapologetically Mexican, from grandma’s spankings with la chancla (a flip-flop) to cultural icons like actors Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, artist Frida Kahlo and luchador El Santo.
Co-director Adrian Molina told Al Dia Dallas that the team took six years to create Coco. Getting it right was important.
Dallas social media influencer Ruperto Prado said he initially did not have high expectations for Coco. He was worried about it being a film that tried to appropriate sugar skulls and Dia de los Muertos for a cute animated film.
But like my macho father, Prado also found himself overwhelmed by his emotions.
“I’m not usually the crier. I’m a Mexican man,” he said, laughing. “Family is a weakness for me. That’s going to relate to older Hispanic men. I think they will tear up for this movie.”
Jaime Villegas, 26, saw the movie with friends over the weekend in Dallas. Now all he can think about is getting home to North Carolina for Christmas to take his mother to see the film.
“The movie was like an homage. It was a love letter to Latinos. If you went into the movie and didn’t know the culture, you still get a sense of it,” Villegas said.
There are many times in the movie where Spanish phrases and songs are heard without an English translation. Some felt it was a powerful statement from Pixar, acknowledging the large Spanish-speaking community of nearly 40 million in the U.S. It is, after all, the second most spoken language after English.
The celebration of Day of the Dead, as macabre as it may seem, is a happy holiday. Sandy Sanchez said she was touched at how the animated film helps people get a new perspective on death.
“They portrayed life after death in such an easy way to take in,” Sanchez said. “They made the afterlife so happy: You get to be reunited with your family. I think it really overall opens perspectives for people. It serves as a learning experience.”
Indeed, another emotional moment after I wiped away my tears and left the theater was seeing the children who were not of Latino heritage talk about how much they loved the movie.
One boy asked his father, “Can we celebrate Dia de los Muertos, too?”