The Advent and Christmas seasons provide many opportunities to get together with family and friends to celebrate. We carry on traditions from our past and sometimes make new ones we hope will be carried on in the future. Family times are not always happy, though, especially if a loved one has been called home to God during the past year. Rifts caused by hurtful happenings, whether recent or distant, can also put strain on family gatherings. Oftentimes, we need to either ask for or extend forgiveness to move beyond the hurts of the past.
All these things – family, tradition, reconciliation, forgiveness – come together in Pixar’s latest movie, “Coco.”
“Coco” entices the mind and senses with dazzling animation and a heartwarming story. Lively music and vibrant colors draw the audience into this charming family-friendly story that explores the tradition of the Mexican feast, Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead. For our review of “Coco,” click here.
Twelve-year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming a musician like his hometown idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) but a generations-old family rift causes Miguel’s Abuelita (Renee Victor) to ban music from the family’s experience. Years ago, Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned his wife and baby daughter to pursue his love of music, so Miguel’s ancestors, the Riveras, became shoemakers instead. Miguel just wants to follow his passion for music believing happiness lies in becoming a musician.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
Miguel sneaks off to compete in the Day of the Dead music festival but since Abuelita smashed his guitar, he needs another. Stealing Ernesto’s guitar from his crypt, Miguel finds himself whisked into the Land of the Dead where he must seek a blessing from one of his deceased family members so as to return to the family of the living.
“Coco” embodies well the themes found in the celebrations of Advent and Christmas, both liturgically and within the family. “Coco’s” story revolves around family, the devastating effects of long-held grudges, remembering our deceased loved ones, and the reconciliation and forgiveness needed to heal.
Nothing happens by accident in a movie, even a character’s name. Miguel, Spanish for Michael, brings St. Michael to mind. As an archangel, St. Michael is a messenger of God. In the movie, Miguel also becomes a messenger, a sort of bridge between the living and deceased members of the Rivera family, since it is through Miguel that the estranged sides of the family are brought together.
“Coco” also emphasizes the power of reconciliation and forgiveness. The family rift keeps Miguel from following his passion for music and this makes him resentful, especially when he’s invited into full participation in the family’s shoe business, something for which he has no desire. During his journey in the Land of the Dead, he learns why his family has banned music and he works to make it so that family members can forgive each other, thus bringing reconciliation and peace to the Riveras, both living and deceased.
Family traditions get placed front and center in “Coco.” The Day of the Dead traditions include the ofrenda, a home shrine which includes photos of the family’s deceased. The movie shows Abuelita laying out flower petals so when the deceased relatives come to visit, they will know the way. Also depicted is the practice of having a picnic at the gravesite. Family traditions make us who we are and allow us to remember those who passed on those traditions. Thanksgiving and Christmas are times when the traditions come out in full force. What are some traditions of your family? Perhaps you might feel called to bring back something that’s slipped over the years or create a new tradition for your family.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures
Tradition isn’t only something we do in blood families. The family of the Catholic Church has many traditions. During Advent, we have the Advent wreath, which represents our waiting for the coming of the Lord. We also have the Jesse Tree, which brings to mind the history that led to the birth of Jesus. A cherished Christmas tradition is Midnight Mass. We read the stories of the saints to inspire us to live as better disciples of Christ. These traditions remind us who we are as Church and how our life of faith is richer for the stories of all those who have gone before us in faith.
“Coco,” with its stunning visuals, not-at-all-scary skeletons with eyeballs, humor, and music reminds us of how important reconciliation and forgiveness is in our life. All families are imperfect and so need reconciliation and forgiveness. Let Advent and Christmas be a time when you reach out to someone who has hurt you with forgiveness. Perhaps you need to reconcile with a loved one you have hurt or maybe you are like Miguel, a bridge that enables people to come together in forgiveness and love.
And don’t forget those important family traditions. Let “Coco” initiate a conversation with your family about your own traditions and how they started and why. What makes them so important to you? Are there perhaps some new traditions you could begin? Over all, remember the contribution those who have gone before you have made to your family life as well as your life of faith.