Miguel is a gifted and energetic boy with big dreams of becoming a famous singer just like his idol, the late Ernesto de la Cruz.
Miguel’s family, though, doesn’t share his passion for music. In fact, they hate it. That’s because Miguel’s great-great grandfather – also a singer — traded his family for his musical career, and they haven’t seen him since. All forms of music are now banned in the home.
That’s too bad, because Miguel has a knack for playing the guitar – a talent he discovered while sneaking away from home. In fact, he shows so much promise that some townsmen are encouraging him to enter the upcoming talent show.
What will he do? Finally, he decides: He will run away and take part in the show.
“I don’t want to be in this family!” he tells everyone.
There’s just one problem with his plan: He doesn’t own a guitar. So, Miguel breaks into the town’s own “Ernesto de la Cruz memorial” and steals the memorial’s guitar — a deed he rationalizes as OK because he and the famous singer apparently are related.
Oh yeah — all of this is taking place on the night of Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”), a Mexican holiday in which families build small-but-elaborate shrines to deceased ancestors so as to commune with and remember their relatives.
When Miguel strums his stolen guitar, magic happens. He is transported into the Land of the Dead, a beautiful megacity full of walking-and-talking skeletons (who wear clothes). He even meets some of his relatives! Perhaps if Miguel can find Ernesto de la Cruz himself, the famous singer-relative will bless Miguel’s musical career.
The Disney/Pixar movie Coco (PG) opens in the U.S. this weekend, one month after it debuted in Mexico and became the highest-grossing film ever in that nation. It stars Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernalas as his skeleton friend Hector, and Benjamin Bratt (Despicable Me 2) as de la Cruz.
Coco comes from the same studio (Pixar) that gave us such family-friendly flicks as the Cars and Toys Story series, Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. But Coco is no innocent children’s movie – especially when viewed through a Christian lens.
Here’s what parents should know:
1. It has major worldview problems. In Miguel’s home, photos of deceased relatives fill the altar. We see trinkets of the deceased’s favorite things. The living even set out samples of their deceased relatives’ favorite foods. Finally, flower petals are scattered between the grave and the home, allowing the spirits to find their way.
It’s the “one night of the year our ancestors come visit us,” says one of Miguel’s family members.
According to Coco, the goal is to keep alive the memory of the deceased so that their spirit will remain alive, too. If the deceased are forgotten in the real world, then their spirit enters “final death” – and they disappear from the Land of the Dead. Where do they then go? According to the movie, “no one knows.”
The problem: Every bit of this is unbiblical. When we die, we face judgment (Hebrews 9:27) and are either with God or separated from God – forever. There is a heaven and hell, but there certainly is no Land of the Dead. Jesus even says that the deceased cannot cross back over to the real world – and the living also cannot go back and forth (Luke 16:19-31).
Scripture even commands us not to commune with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Isaiah 8:19).
Finally, let’s examine our natural desire to study and remember our past: our great-grandparents, our grandparents and parents, our aunts and uncles. By itself, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s even a good thing. Remember: Family is one of God’s great gifts. Without family, we wouldn’t exist! When we are sharing stories of deceased loved ones, we are honoring God by not forgetting His many blessings. In a sense, their story is our story, too. But God already has told us: Don’t try and communicate with them. And worship Him alone.
2. It might be disturbing for some children. Characters’ arms, legs and heads frequently fall off, and they simply pick them up and put them back on. It’s quite common in the Land of the Dead to pass around one’s own head. (Such as for selfie pictures – of course!) It’s all played for laughs, but I’m one parent who doesn’t think it’s all fun and games.
Additionally, dragon-like spirit creatures inhabit the Land of the Dead. We also learn of a murder plot in the real world.
3. It’s free of language and sexuality. We see a female skeleton, without clothes, posing for a painting. (Miguel covers his eyes as if he’s embarrassed.) Other than one “jerks,” it contains no language that would concern parents.
4. It’s an otherwise beautiful film. It’s too bad the movie’s primary theme is so problematic, because otherwise it’s enjoyable.
It upholds the value of a traditional family. Miguel and his large family love one another. They take care of one another.
Another positive element: We learn that a singer chose his family over his career. (“Nothing is more important than family,” we hear.)
The film’s vibrant colors and beautiful Mexican landscapes stand out, too.
5. It’s preceded by a Frozen-themed short. And it’s far more appropriate for small kids. It features Anna, Elsa and Olaf as they try and find a yearly Christmas tradition for their family. Called Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, it’s an enjoyable film with a good message. But be warned: It’s very long (about 20 minutes). Combined with the previews, you’ll be sitting there for half an hour before Coco begins.
Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars.