Monday, November 27, 2017

Coco Adoption Movie Review (Spoilers)

(There are spoilers throughout this review)

Miguel loves music, but his family forbids it. Four generations ago, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left, when Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco was only a small child. He left intending to play his music for the world, but never returned. His wife, Miguel’s great-great-grandmother learned how to make shoes, and in the generations since, her family has become famous and successful as shoemakers. Music has been forbidden from the family because of the pain caused when Miguel’s great-great-grandfather left. Miguel secretly loves music and wants to be a musician. His family will not the speak the name of his great-great-grandfather; they try to forget him. As a result, Miguel does not know who his ancestor is, although he believes it is Ernesto de la Cruz, who during his life had been the most famous singer in the land. On Dia de los Muertos, Miguel, frustrated by his family’s lack of support for his love of music, claims that he no longer wants to be part of his family. He is transported into the land of the dead, where he attempts to find Ernesto de la Cruz, but instead finds out some surprising truths about his family history.

The Adoption Connection

Coco is a story of search, reunion, secrecy, and identity. It is one of the most adoption-relevant films I’ve reviewed, even though the film is not about adoption.

The importance of family over many generations is important to Miguel, but much of his identity is missing because his family refuses to speak about his great-great-grandfather. Their pain over what they perceived as his betrayal of the family leads them to try to forget him, and to not speak about him. However, this causes Miguel to fantasize about who his ancestor may have been. For adopted persons or kids in foster care, it is not uncommon to fantasize about unknown birth parents; those fantasies are often either overly negative or overly positive; the truth can help develop a more realistic understanding.  The family’s unwillingness to speak of Miguel’s ancestor also leaves Miguel without answers for why he has certain skills, drives, and ambitions. Eventually, he learns the truth – that his grandfather was a talented and passionate musician, and then Miguel can make peace with that aspect of his own identity. Miguel expressed, “My whole life, something made me different and I didn’t know where it came from – it’s from you, and I’m proud to be your family.” What a powerful statement of the importance of family, and a powerful picture of what is lost when we keep secrets about a person’s ancestry.  

A character without family connections has made family connections with others in a similar situation; he explains, that they are “kind of” his family. “We’re all friendless and forgotten. We call each other cousin.”

Miguel feels that he must prove himself worthy of his heritage.

Strong Points

Even though a family uses secrecy and silence to try to protect themselves, they find healing through truth. (For more on secrecy and silence Check out our Book! )        

Coco captures the importance of multigenerational familial connections, which is relevant to all families, but perhaps particularly to those families touched by adoption.

Miguel struggles with feeling part of his family, but knowing the truth about his family helps him accept his family – and helps them accept him.  

We learn that Coco’s father missed his young daughter even though he was ultimately prevented from returning to her.

Miguel’s family believed that his great-great grandfather abandoned his family. They tell Miguel to forget him and not speak of him, but Miguel protests, “He is my family.”

Miguel feels caught between his own identity and the demands of his family. I can imagine adoptees feeling a similar way when they experience, or are subjected to, loyalty conflicts between their adoptive and birth families. Miguel powerfully challenges his great-great-grandmother, “I don’t want to pick sides. Why aren’t you on my side? That’s what family is supposed to do.”

Miguel is freed from an untrue fantasy about his unknown relatives, and is able to take pride and wholeness from the truth.  

Even when it seems that Coco has forgotten her father, she still has some memories of him tucked deep away, and Miguel is able to help her find them.


*Major Spoilers*

A big theme of the story is that Miguel’s ancestor did leave his family. What Miguel learns, though, is surprising. Ernesto de la Cruz is not his relative. In fact, Miguel’s ancestor was a forgotten musician named Hector, who was close friends with de la Cruz. Hector decided that he wanted to abandon his career and return home to his family; however, de la Cruz wanted to become famous. He poisoned Hector, and after Hector was dead, de la Cruz stole Hector’s music, took credit for it, and used it to gain fame and riches for himself. Miguel learns and shares the truth, which brings healing to his family, both in the land of the living and in the land of the dead. The themes might be a bit hard for some of the younger children that this film seems likely to appeal to.

Before they learn the truth about Coco’s father, Miguel’s family tells him, “never mention that man; he’s better off forgotten,” but it is obvious that Coco, even in her very old age, longs for her father.
The tradition holds that someone whose family has not put up their photo on the day of the dead cannot cross over into the land of the living. Some kids could walk away from the film feeling responsible for the lost relationships with their birth family members; parents should proactively address this, reminding children that they are remembered and loved, and that it is good for them to remember the people they love, but that they are not responsible for what losses they’ve experienced. 

As Hector is nearly forgotten by his living relatives, he starts to fade away. He expresses that, when no one left in the living world remembers him, he will experience “the final death, which he says happens to everyone.”

Miguel nearly becomes trapped in the land of the dead – his skin starts to be translucent and we can 
see his skeleton; this could scare some young kids.

For a moment, it seems as though Hector will never be reunited with his daughter.

A crowd cheers when a villain is crushed to death.


Because of Coco’s portrayal of the importance of family relationships and the power of breaking secrecy, it seems like an important film for adoptive families. At the same time, kids should not feel guilty if they forget those they’ve lost, especially kids who’ve lost familial connections through foster care or adoption; kids in that situation often do struggle with unjustified self-blame, and they could leave this film feeling as they’ve got something else to feel guilty about. Parents need to guard against this, and the best way to do that is with proactive conversations – but the film seems so important to see because of how it captures the importance of the family members with whom we’ve lost contact and because it shows the gain that can occur when secrecy is broken. Some young kids might be scared by the skeletons, but overall this one should be good for parents as well as for most kids ages 8 and up, with parental guidance. The film is paired with Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, which is a heartwarming and even insightful short film.

Questions for Discussion

Why did Miguel says that he did not want to pick sides? What did he mean? What do you think about how he was feeling?

Why did Miguel’s family try not to talk about his great-great-grandfather? How did that impact Miguel?

How did the truth change Miguel’s family?

In what ways is Miguel shaped by family members that he grew up with? In what ways was he shaped by his great-great-grandfather?

Who makes you, you?

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