JB writes: “There is a new Disney movie for which I have seen a short preview. It is apparently based on the Mexican Day of the Dead. Is this the same as All Souls Day? Or does this movie have something to do with “Saint Death”, which clearly isn’t good or of God. . . . Catholic and Christian symbols are often mixed with new age items, so I am confused. Would you please clarify the meaning of this movie for me?”
When it comes to Coco, Disney employs its usual brilliant animation, lovable characters and touching story lines to produce what seems to be a film about the importance of family but is instead a film celebrating paganism.
Coco’s story is based on a boy named Miguel who loves music more than anything; however, his family despises it ever since his great-great grandfather abandoned the family to pursue a music career. Since then, no one in the family has been allowed to have anything to do with music.
But Miguel loves it so much that he makes himself a guitar and secretly plays it in the attic. He event constructed a kind of shrine to Mexico’s most famous singer, Ernesto de la Cruz.
He is still dreaming of becoming a famous musician when the annual Day of the Dead arrives. This is an indigenous Mexican religious tradition that sets aside a time to honor the dead at cemeteries. The people bring food and gifts to their deceased ancestors who are believed to be present in spirit. For those ancestors who don’t have a relative to remember them, they eventually turn to ash in a place in the afterlife known as the Land of the Dead.
Just before the Day of the Dead arrives, his grandmother catches him playing the guitar and smashes the instrument. Miguel is heartbroken – at first – but then concocts a plan to steal de la Cruz’s famous guitar from his crypt on the Day of the Dead. He does this, and quickly learns that the Day of the Dead is a time to give to the dead rather than to take from them and is promptly transported to the Land of the Dead.
This place is portrayed as a vibrant and beautiful with most the people there looking like animated skeletons. The only way for Miguel to get back to the land of the living is reconnecting with his deceased relatives as well as de la Cruz for a “blessing”. While there he is assisted by “spirit guides” who help him to find his family members.
Of course, the story eventually returns him to earth, but not before turning the Christian idea of life and death – and even the importance of family – on its head.
As this blog explains, Mexico’s Day of the Dead is indeed an ancient Aztec practice full of pagan ideas, but there is a Catholic version that has some resemblance to our feast of the Holy Souls. Unfortunately, the only mention of anything Catholic is in the form of someone blessing themselves and saying “Santa Maria!” and some crosses in a cemetery. Everything else is based on a pagan worldview that has nothing to do with Christianity.
“The story walks us through a fairly intricate theological understanding of what happens after we die, so much so that one of my fellow Plugged In reviewers likened it to a ‘Sunday school’ lesson about this belief system,” says this reviewer on Plugged In.
Aside from the non-Christian belief that people can come back as ghosts once a year to eat, drink and be merry with the things they loved in life, one of the more unsettling problems with this movie is how it makes a person’s eternal life depend on the memory of a relative.
“Once no one alive remembers you any more, you fade into dust. Annihilation, it would seem. “The final death,” one character calls it.
In a way, this elevates “the family” into the status of God.
“The presentation of this belief system is no doubt touching and beautifully rendered. But the beliefs we see earnestly depicted here nevertheless remain at loggerheads with orthodox Christian teaching in long list of significant ways,” the review continues.
“There’s no sense of judgement or accountability for anyone’s sinful choices, as evidenced by the fact that some of those who “enjoy” the best afterlife in the Land of the Dead have perpetrated horrible things in the land of the living. And eventually, most folks fade into nothing when they’re forgotten by the living—a grim, hopeless prospect indeed. Finally, Coco never grapples at all with the question of God’s connection to this realm of the dead, either.
“So despite this film’s eye-popping beauty and its heartwarming moments, Pixar’s latest still packages a pagan worldview that’s in sharp conflict with Christian beliefs. That’s an issue that should prompt parents to pause and consider how best to deal with it if you’ve been planning on packing up the family and heading off to multiplex to see Coco.”
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