Pixar did it again with the release of their 2017 film, Coco. One of their best offerings to date, Coco tells the story of a young boy named Miguel, who wants nothing more in life than to be a musician — a pursuit not endorsed by his family. That’s because they’ve been traumatized for generations by a long deceased patriarch, who abandoned his family to play music. It’s up to Miguel to negotiate the territory that pits him between his family and his music, both of which he dearly loves.
Coco joins the pantheon of Pixar greats like Inside Out and Up, sure to make anyone with even half a heart cry. It’s also just as complex and layered as its predecessors, packed full of Easter eggs, metaphors, and nods to Mexican culture. And, of course, the visuals and the animation are stunning, bringing Miguel’s world and everyone in it to life.
Of course, no Pixar movie is complete without all of the fun stuff they pack in to keep parents amused, too, so here are the things in Coco only adults notice.
Latino representation done right has been "a long time coming"
Disney and its subsidiary, Pixar, have put women and minorities in the center of their films before, like in Frozen, Inside Out, Brave, and Moana. But Coco is Pixar’s first ever Latina film, which is the reason that so many folks were excited about it — or super nervous about it. Certainly Disney, who owns Pixar, has been accused of lacking diversity, or making culturally insensitive gaffs in the past.
Fortunately, Coco exceeded expectations and really made no culturally insensitive blunders, or relied on stereotypes. Much of that can be attributed to the attention and nuance of co-director Adrian Molina. In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air, he said, "Well, it’s a long time coming for Latinos to see themselves on screen represented in a way that they can be proud of and in a way that reflects the things that they value about their culture and they value about their families."
In a nutshell, everything was well executed, including the code-switching, the depiction of cultural customs, and even the dreaded La Chancla. If you grew up Latina, you lived in fear of La Chancla, so seeing both Abuelita and Mama Imelda wield it so deftly was a hoot. As a kid you might not notice how much attention the filmmakers paid to ensuring proper representation. But as an adult, it’s really amazing to see Mexican culture so well depicted on screen.
Toy Story piñatas and Finding Nemo alebrijes
Pixar is famous for putting lots of Easter eggs and nods to other Pixar films in their movies, and Coco is no different. For starters, Woody and Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story manifest in piñata form, along with Mike and Sully from Monsters Inc.; Miguel runs past them in the beginning of the film, as he heads toward the central plaza. Additionally, Marlin, Dory, and other characters from Finding Nemo and Finding Dory can be spotted on the table selling alebrijes that Miguel briefly drums.
Sid’s famous skull shirt from Toy Story is sported by the pouty synthesizer musician during the talent show, and Nemo himself graces the family ofrenda. The luxo ball can be found as a luchador mask on a mask stand, too, and again in the background of Frida rehearsal scene. And in another nod to Toy Story, the Pizza Planet truck makes an appearance, zooming by as Miguel gazes longingly out of the window in the beginning — only this time, it’s Pizza Planeta. Apparently the chain is international.
Most of the Easter eggs fly by super quickly, but discerning adults can spot them.
Technology is super old school in the land of the dead
The DMV in Zootopia might have been super slow thanks to the staff of sloths, but at least they had touchscreen technology. That’s definitely not the case in the land of the dead, where all of the technology is super old school. There’s not a cell phone in sight, so apparently the dead don’t post family ofrenda pictures on Facebook, or share photos of their offerings on Instagram.
Instead, denizens in the land of the dead rely on walkie-talkies for quick, local communication. Agents at the Department of Family Reunions use typewriters, or in some cases Apple computers from the 1980s and 1990s. The clerk, voiced by Gabriel Iglesias, has piles of papers, a rotary phone, and an adding machine on his desk (as well as a plate of pan dulce which could be a nod to both Mexican culture and Iglesias’ love of sweets, which he has riffed on many times in the past).
Also, when Miguel is discovered by the police officer, the officer busts out a flash bulb camera to take his picture, not an iPhone. Speaking of phones, when Miguel implores Hector to help him meet Ernesto de la Cruz, he pulls him into a phone booth for privacy. Kids might not recognize any of these old school devices, but if you ever used an Apple IIGS to play Oregon Trail back in grade school, you can’t miss it.
A nod to Wall-E?
Hidden objects like piñatas and the luxo ball are not the only shout-outs to other Pixar films you’ll find in Coco. Often, some actual scenes seem to also be nods to older films from the animation powerhouse.
So, if you noticed that Miguel’s secret musical hideout looks a lot like Wall-E’s home, you’re not alone as the parallels are certainly there. For one, Miguel can only go to his hideout by himself because if he got caught with the music he stashes there, his family would be furious. Wall-E, too, spent all of his time at home alone, but it was for a different reason: He didn’t have any friends or family to get mad at him — that is, until Eva came along. Before that, Wall-E found comfort and solace in classic musicals like Hello, Dolly! that he would watch on a glowing monitor. That’s not unlike Miguel, who is only able to appreciate the classic musical films he loves in his hideout.
Some creative liberties with sexy, curvy skeletons
Over the years, Pixar has done an amazing job of making their animation look realistic, even when it’s applied to talking cars or snow-wielding princesses. The animation in Coco was especially stunning, featuring the bright, bold colors associated with Día de Muertos. Plus, the filmmakers made multiple trips to Mexico to ensure that their depictions were as authentic as possible.
But sometimes even Pixar takes creative liberties with reality. Not long after Miguel finds himself in the land of the dead, you start to notice that some of the skeletons are curvy, even though they literally don’t have any curves — they’re just bones. Sure, it helps that the dead ladies all cinch their dresses tightly at their waist (which is really their spine), making their hips look much wider. But that doesn’t account for the bootylicious rear end that the talent show emcee flaunts.
What’s also really impressive is how they made a skeleton with no clothing on look sexy. Just before Miguel runs into Frida Kahlo, he spies a skeleton model as she poses for a painter who looks suspiciously like Mexican artist Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo’s philandering husband. Miguel gasps and runs away.
Obviously kids aren’t going to understand why some of the skeleton ladies have some junk in the trunk, but adults sure get a kick out of it.
Dante the silly pup is no dope
Dante may be super silly, but there’s more to him than it seems, as all viewers learn pretty quickly: He’s not just a funny dog with a wagging tongue — he’s Miguel’s alebrije. In the world of Coco, that means he is his spirit guide and responsible for Miguel, which is an important mission for any creature.
There’s more to know about Dante that’s not obvious to kids in the movie. For one, he’s a Xoloitzcuintli (or Xolo for short), which is an iconic, hairless dog breed famous in Mexico. In Aztec mythology, Xolo dogs were sacred creatures who could move between both the land of the living and the land of the dead. So it makes sense that this seemingly-silly pup is really Miguel’s protector.
Additionally, Dante’s name could very well be a nod to Italian poet Dante Alighieri. Dante penned the famous Divine Comedy, which includes the Inferno. In the Inferno, Dante journeys through hell, the underworld in Christian theology. So the parallel to Miguel’s journey through the land of the dead is obvious to folks even a little familiar with the work.
Pouring one out for my homies
One of the many emotional scenes in Coco is Hector’s visit with Chicharrón, a friend and neighbor of Hector’s in the land of the dead. When Hector and Miguel arrive, they find Chicharrón laying on what will be his deathbed, which means he is on the verge of being forgotten by his living family.
On the way there, Hector stopped and grabs two shot glasses of tequila so he and Chicharrón could share a drink, however, that never happens, as Chicharrón slips away after Hector plays "Everyone Knows Juanita" (and adults know that the lyrics Hector changed were likely about something round). After Chicharrón’s remains scatter into the breeze, Hector picks up one of the drinks, toasts the air, drinks down the shot, then places the glass it upside down next to Chicharrón’s untouched libation. That’s a nod to a tradition in several cultures of pouring out alcohol for your deceased loved ones, honoring their memory.
The scene also foreshadows the eventual reveal of Hector’s murder, when de la Cruz poured two poisoned drinks for Hector and himself, but doesn’t imbibe his drink. Little ones definitely won’t pick up on that detail.
Frida Kahlo (and her unibrow) are everywhere
Arguably the most famous Mexican artist of all time, Frida Kahlo and her work are both celebrated in Coco. The iconic painter, who’s known for featuring a variety of creatures and objects in her work such as monkeys, Xolo dogs, and fruit of all kinds, has these things all around her in the film. Her alebrije is a monkey, for example, and she calls Dante "the mighty Xolo dog." Even her unibrow gets several shout-outs in the film, such as when Hector is busted for "falsifying a unibrow" when we first meet him. Miguel’s family also bristles when they rip off their unibrows later, when they’re all disguised as Fridas.
It makes perfect sense that Kahlo is a famous celebrity in the land of the dead, as she’s much more famous posthumously than she was when she was alive. But she’s not as big as de la Cruz, who, as she notes, "doesn’t do rehearsals." That could be a nod to the fact that her work was not taken so seriously when she was alive because she was a woman.
We see those fertile metaphors with the cactus and papaya!
Kahlo is also well-known for depicting her face and body in her paintings, and some of the complicated issues that come with being a women. For example, in one painting, she has herself nursing at a woman’s breast, and in another she depicts herself emerging from the womb.
Pixar somehow figured out a way to reference these two explicit paintings through her performance scene in Coco in a child-safe way, while also making sure adults watching would immediately see the nod. It couldn’t have been more perfect: Tiny Frida Kahlos crawl out of a papaya, and nurse on a cactus. Obviously, these are both metaphors for female anatomy. The papaya gives birth, and the cactus, which secretes milk, is meant to signify nursing on the breast.
Adult viewers notice this right away, as do the characters in the film. "Is it too obvious?" Frida asks Miguel in reference to the performance. Miguel responds with, "I think it’s just the right amount of obvious?" breaking the fourth wall. Well played, Pixar.
So many blink-and-miss-it cameos
The red carpet at de la Cruz’s tower isn’t just a throwaway, funny scene. If you’re not familiar with Mexican culture you might miss it, but the El Santo character is based on a real person. El Santo was an extremely famous luchador whose wrestling career spanned decades from the 1930s to the 1980s. Like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, he also became a movie star, and had quite the prolific film career. Notable here is that he starred in the movie The Land of the Dead (1970), in which El Santo travels to the underworld.
There are other nods to famous Mexican celebrities and legends which young kids won’t pick up on. El Santo‘s red carpet date is María Félix, a famous Mexican actress. Actors Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, long famous in Mexico, get a hug from de la Cruz at his mansion blow-out. You can also spot a nod to comedian Cantinflas, who’s wearing his iconic paper hat in the same scene.