🎥🍣 Movie Sushi - Coco

AdGridley
9 min readOct 17, 2020

It’s Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Mexico. Candles are lovingly lit by photos of deceased family members on afrendas or shrines on this, the most sacred of days. Miguel understands that his father was a musician. Sadly, he dreamed of playing for the world, so took his guitar and abandoned Miguel’s family without looking back. Mama Imelda reacted not with sadness, but anger. She shed no tears, instead throwing out everything musical and banishing music entirely from the house. In order to provide for her family, she taught herself to make shoes. Then, she taught all her relatives also how to make shoes.

Mama Coco is Miguel’s great grandmother — she doesn’t say much, but Miguel is still affectionate to her. Abeulita is Mama Coco’s daughter and strictly enforces the rule against music. Still, Miguel is passionate about music. He dreams of being just like Ernesto de le Cruz, the most beloved singer in all of Mexico. In 1942, he was crushed to death by a giant bell. Even so, Miguel feels inspired whenever he sees de la Cruz in films or hears him play.

While out shining shoes on Mariachi Plaza, somewhere he shouldn’t really be in the first place, a musician there tells him to play guitar anyway, in defiance of his family. He even lends Miguel his guitar briefly to play. The ever-vigilant Abuelita spots Miguel with the mariachi and scolds them both. While being accompanied off the Plaza, Miguel quickly snatches a talent show poster anyway, unseen by his crotchety Abuelita. The talent show is the same day as the Day of the Dead. For the locals, it’s a choice between stardom or family on this night.

The afrendas are sacred collections of old family photos and small food offerings designed to help remember the family that has passed over to the land of the dead. If the offerings aren’t provided, the dead family members can’t cross over to the land of the living for the night. Dante the street dog finds an old, white guitar for Miguel to play. He eagerly watches old videos of Ernesto de la Cruz and mimics his playing on the guitar. Typical for Ernesto is that he “doesn’t follow the rules, he follows his heart” and plays his song Remember Me. You should grab your dream and make it come true. Miguel is in awe of the man.

Miguel is summoned before his family. He’s finally old enough to move up from shining shoes to making them — Abuelita is overwhelmed with pride and showers Miguel with kisses. In the excitement, Dante knocks over the photo of Mama Imelda and Mama Coco. This photo also shows part of the father who walked out on the family — his head having been removed in spite a while ago. But, Miguel spots something else in the photo. There’s a white guitar there, too. This is just the same as Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar seen so many times in the videos he’s studied. Could this megastar be a relation of Miguel’s? He’s overjoyed that he can finally explain why he’s so musical — against the odds. Of course, his family shoot him down. This causes Miguel to say “I don’t need your stupid afrenda” — nobody usually would ever say such a blasphemous thing.

Miguel tries entering the talent contest. But, without a guitar, they won’t let him in. he knows he has to seize his moment from all the films. With firework celebrations in full swing and with dog, Dante’s help, he breaks into De la Cruz’s mausoleum. Miguel takes the man’s white guitar, as depicted in the family photo. Little does Miguel know, but this is a multi-dimensional no-no. When the night watchman investigates, he walks right through Miguel who suddenly realises he’s surrounded by ghosts. Dante the dog, for some reason remains real. Miguel’s dead family are really pleased to see him.

There’s a big bridge of red petals where the dead can cross over on this night. Mama Imelda is stuck in the land of the dead because Miguel still has her partly-torn photo in his pocket with him. She goes to the Department of Family Reunions to get some answers. At Departures, the officials check the photo in the afrendas with the skeleton standing in front of them. It’s like passport control, when they match, the person is allowed through. If the family has forgotten the skeleton, they won’t be allowed over.

Miguel recognises Mama Imelda from her afrenda photo as she yells at an official. It turns out, because Miguel stole a dead man’s guitar and has Imelda’s photo, the whole family is cursed. On top of this, Miguel only has until dawn to return to the land of the living. Up until this time, he’ll start gradually fading into a skeleton. He must secure a family member’s blessing to cross back. His Mama Imelda is only too happy to bless her great, great grandson, but she adds the rather extreme condition that he never play music again. Not one of the assembled ancestors there is willing to bless him without this condition. Mama Imelda really is a force to be reckoned with. Miguel gets upset and runs off.

Hector is trying to cross the big bridge of red petals to the land of the living. In his pleading, he claims to know the great Ernesto de la Cruz. The guard’s unimpressed, but Miguel’s ears prick up. He tells Hector that De la Cruz is a distant relative of his. Since his whole dead family is after Miguel, Hector applies some makeup to the twelve year old. He now looks like a skeleton — hopefully blending in. They see a poster for De la Cruz’s upcoming show: The Sunshine Spectacular. Hector then takes Miguel backstage to the performers’ rehearsal area. The other ghosts call Hector “Chorizo” because he choked to death on some chorizo. He strenuously claims it was food poisoning.

Mama Imelda’s giant, flying Alebrije (al-eh-bree-hez) Pepita is instructed to find Miguel as Hector tries to find him a guitar. They arrive at a big shantytown — where live those with no afrenda photo. They meet Cheech, who’s already painfully glowing — preparing to pass away for the second time. Miguel can keep the man’s guitar on condition that Hector play him his favourite, bawdy, folk song. He glows brightly, then vanishes into dust. This is called the Final Death — when no-one remembers you anywhere. Hector adds that it happens to everyone eventually.

Hector tells Miguel all about how he and Ernesto de la Cruz used to play guitar in the good, old days. They then arrive at the Plaza de la Cruz, where, as a relative, hopefully, Ernesto will bless Miguel so he can return home. It’s Battle of the Bands. After some discussion, Hector and Miguel decide that Un Poco Loco is the perfect song to play. Miguel, while having practised a lot in private has never actually performed in front of people. Hector talks him through his warm-up and even teaches him how to give a grito. This is like a wild yell that invigorates you so you can better seize your moment. He’s told to grab their attention and don’t let it go. Mid-performance, Dante pulls Hector onstage with Miguel.

Miguel’s performance is going great. The crowd and performers are all enjoying themselves. Then, Mama Imelda’s spirit creature Pepita appears at the back of the auditorium with Miguel’s other dead family fanning out. Miguel runs off. When Mama Imelda tracks him down on a staircase, he tells her she’ll never understand his unfair persecution. Then, to show him that she’s made sacrifices, too, she bursts into song. Miguel tells her how she never supported him which is something every family should do.

Miguel is still on a quest to meet the celebrity, De la Cruz. He’s hosting an extravagant party at the top of his tower. Miguel sneaks past security wedged in the bell of a tuba. At the party, there are multi-coloured people everywhere. The multi-coloured porcupines even have canapes on their spines. Miguel’s best chance at recognition is to demonstrate his talent. He climbs a wall, grabs a guitar and gives his very best grito. He then starts serenading all the guests. Unfortunately, as he walks, he falls into the massive, guitar-shaped swimming pool. De la Cruz rescues him.

Miguel introduces himself as his great, great grandson and De la Cruz is blown away. He proudly tells everyone about his recently-discovered great, great grandson. Hector then arrives and learns that he wasn’t actually killed by food poisoning, it was because de la Cruz poisoned him. They’d been touring together non-stop for months and Hector wanted, ironically, to see his family. De le Cruz poisoned his friend, Hector and passed off his songs as his own — including Remember Me. When Miguel puts this all together, De La Cruz summons security and has both Miguel and Hector removed from his tower.

Miguel finds himself in a sinkhole, with Hector, also. Hector’s in a really bad way and keeps glowing painfully. Hector then mentions that his baby Coco must be forgetting him. The penny drops for Miguel, who shows Hector the photo of Mama Coco and Mama Imelda with the male guitarist’s head torn off. This must be actually Hector and not De la Cruz, after all. He was looking forward to performing his special song Remember Me one last time for his Coco. Miguel says he’s proud to have Hector as family, a total upgrade from murderer De la Cruz. Both of them do their best gritos and Dante appears at the top of the cave. He also has with him Imelda’s big, flying pepita.

Dante changes into many different, bright colours. He apparently was a spirit guide all along as they travel through the towering, colourful villages. Imelda is still angry at Hector, who was actually on his way home when they thought he’d walked out on them. After all this excitement, Miguel is now ready to accept any terms to accept his family’s blessing. But, first, Imelda agrees to help get Hector’s afrenda photo back from De la Cruz. Without this, he can never cross back to play again for his daughter Coco. Hector still convulses with glowing pain he’s so weak — this is due to the living Mama Coco slowly forgetting about him.

The family must now retrieve Hector’s photo from De la Cruz. It’s Ernesto’s Sunshine Spectacular. The big papaya act is on with flames everywhere. When they find Ernesto, Imelda hits him several times, casually referencing Hector as “the love of her life”. Afterwards, Hector quizzes her about this, but she’s still too angry to talk about it. In the confusion, Imelda ends up being raised onto the stage on a big, mechanical pedestal. In front of millions, alone on stage, Imelda is struck dumb. Miguel is the only one who knows she can really sing, so he encourages her. Before long, he’s found a guitar for Hector and the estranged couple entertain the crowd. Security are everywhere, though.

Imelda eventually gets close enough to Ernesto to grab Hector’s afrenda photo. She stamps on his foot. As they talk frankly, Ernesto goes back over his historic crimes but this time, there’s a camera quietly watching them and they’re wired for sound. Ernesto, so fixated on his clean image, reveals how he murdered Hector with poison and stole the man’s best songs. The crowd grows restless as they learn this via live video link to huge monitors. Miguel ends up being thrown off the edge of the building. Luckily, Pepita swoops down after him to the rescue. But, Hector’s photo is lost in the water. Ernesto’s once loving audience gets angry as they learn the truth and they start to throw fruit and veg at him. He tries to rekindle some affection from them until Pepita scoops up Ernesto from the stage and hurls him far away into a big bell.

Imelda gives her petal blessing to Miguel, with Hector sadly left dying. As soon as he’s back in the land of the living, Miguel grabs Hector’s guitar and rushes off to find Mama Coco where she usually sits. Abuelita is angry and Miguel’s parents are worried, but Miguel knows what he must do. Brushing aside pleas for him to apologise to Mama Coco, he somehow manages to play Remember Me for the old lady and she begins to perk up. The congregated family are astounded when she actually speaks. Miguel playing the song her father used to play her as a child has brought new life to the old lady. She even sings along with Miguel as the happy memories come flooding back. She reaches in her drawer and explains how she’s kept all her father’s poems and letters for all this time. The torn photo finally has the head of Hector added back to it and all is forgiven.

Everyone is now far more relaxed about the idea of music. We rejoin the family a year later, after Mama Coco has passed away. The tour guide describing the greatest singer in Mexico now credits Hector with being the superstar instead of the cruel Ernesto. Mama Coco’s photo is also safely on the family’s afrenda. Papa Hector passes the Departures afrenda test and we see Mama Imelda, Papa Hector and Mama Coco all happily back together. Miguel, meanwhile, is uniting the whole village in song while he plays guitar and sings.

Starring Anthony Gonzalez. Gael Garcia Bernal. Benjamin Bratt. Rated PG. Dir Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina. Released in the UK 2017. Runtime 1hr 45mins.

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AdGridley

Ad teaches & gives speeches on his MH struggle + recovery at institutions right across the world. (Movie Sushi pieces contain spoilers)