It was a spur-of-the-moment kinda thing. Instead of going with a friend or sibling, I drove to the AMC Showplace 17 in Indianapolis on my own for an evening screening. I had the whole row to myself, and aside from the three young ladies sitting directly behind me, I was alone. The lights dimmed, the trailers rolled, the customary Pixar short film played, and then the main event began. Coco.
I was not prepared.
You see, my grandma Quiquis is from Mexico City, so I’ve always had a special affinity for Mexican culture. This has been greatly enhanced by my yearly trips with her and my grandpa to Mexico, where I’ve made one or two new friends. (Hey Carlos!) So, when the movie started, I was immediately captivated by the Mexican music, imagery, and atmosphere. I fell in love.
It started with the mariachi rendition of the Disney theme, which gave me chills. Then we meet Miguel, receive a tour of his pueblo, and are first introduced to his abuelita. Within 2 or 3 minutes she throws a shoe, says “I’m hard on you because I love you” and “you’re a twig, eat more tamales!” and I realized I was watching the animated version of my own grandmother. There was no way I was going to dislike this movie.
Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t seen Coco yet, stop reading and go watch it. I’m about to give away the most important plot points, and they won’t mean anything to you if you haven’t seen the film. Ok? Ok.
The movie is titled after Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco, with whom Miguel has a really sweet relationship. Though she is in her 90s, sits in a wicker wheelchair and can’t speak or react, Miguel shares the mindless details of his day with her, whether it be the way he lifts his feet when he runs or the fact that he only has one dimple when he smiles. Miguel clearly sees “Mama Coco” as someone he can talk to freely, and he loves her.
For his own part, Miguel dreams of becoming a famous musician like his hero, the most famous (fictional) musician in the history of Mexico: Ernesto de la Cruz. Ernesto is known for writing and singing hit after hit, but his most famous song is Remember Me:
Through an extraordinary set of circumstances, Miguel ends up stuck in the land of the dead needing to find De La Cruz, the only person who can send Miguel back home. Miguel teams up with miscreant Hector in the search, and the two of them begin to bond.
We find out that Hector is also trying to leave the land of the dead, if only for one night, in hopes of seeing his still-living daughter one last time. Miguel agrees that if Hector can help him find De La Cruz, he will in turn help Hector reunite with his daughter.
Despite my predisposition to love the film, as it progressed I remember thinking that it wasn’t Pixar’s strongest offering. It seemed to be paced a little too quickly, and some of the moments were forced. But still, as the whole thing was thoroughly Mexican, I was willing to give those shortcomings a pass…even if I was a bit disappointed.
But then, we find out that Hector is actually a musician himself, and that he wrote Remember Me for his daughter…Coco:
I’ll admit, I teared up a bit as this scene unfolded. Why wouldn’t I? The love of a father for his daughter is a beautiful thing. And besides, Hector is Miguel’s great-great grandfather! Now we have to see him reunited with Coco.
The only way for Hector to see Coco again is for Miguel to return home and get Coco to remember her father, but her memories are fading. As she begins to forget Hector, he begins to fade from the land of the dead. Time is running out, and as Hector nears his own final death, he sacrifices his hopes of ever seeing his daughter again in order to send Miguel home safely. Legitimate tears streamed from my eyes as that scene unfolded. And then this:
I was bawling. I cried and cried and cried. It took me until roughly 90% of the way through the credits to compose myself entirely. Something about Hector’s journey just to see his daughter again, and his ultimate triumph against all odds, just got me. The song he wrote for her, Remember Me, was beautiful, too:
Though I have to travel far
Each time you hear a sad guitar
Know that I’m with you the only way that I can be
Until you’re in my arms again
I told my family about the film, and eventually dragged all of them to the theater to see it with me. They loved it.
Fast forward six months, and I’m in my car listening to the Spanish version of Remember Me. Now, I’m by no means fluent, but I did understand enough to realize that the Spanish version was substantively different from the English version. When I got to my destination, I pulled up the lyrics on my phone:
Aunque tengo que emigrar
Si mi guitarra oyes llorar
Ella con su triste canto te acompañará
Hasta que en mis brazos tú estés
Now, before I translate, it’s important to note that in Spanish, words can have either masculine or feminine endings. What’s interesting is that to a native speaker, a masculine or feminine word will actually imply masculine or feminine characteristics. (For more on this phenomenon, check out this amazing article.)
Why does this matter? Because in Spanish, the word for guitar (guitarra) is feminine. Its very nature conveys ideas like comfort, nurturing, and caring. On to the English translation:
Though I have to migrate
If you hear my guitar cry
She will accompany you with her sad song
Until you’re in my arms
She, the guitar, will accompany Coco with her sad song. Hector has to leave his daughter, but he is leaving behind the music that comes from his guitar as a comforting, nurturing and caring presence to be with his daughter until his return. Beautiful!
In the context of the movie, this is even more impactful. Why? Because when Hector leaves, Mama Imelda bans music from the house. Thematically, she isn’t just banning music, she’s also removing Coco’s last connection to her father – the song he left her to accompany her while he’s gone.
And what happens at the end of the movie? Miguel returns to Mama Coco and sings her that song. He returns to her the one thing that her father left for her: the song, the music, the guitar that will accompany her until she’s in his arms again. And by doing so, Miguel helps Coco to remember her father, and ultimately see him in the afterlife.
Details like this are why I love movies. Not knowing about the Spanish translation didn’t take away from the film, but learning about it made me appreciate the story even more deeply.
So, the next time you watch Coco (or the first time, if you were bad and read this post without watching the movie), remember that in Spanish, Remember Me isn’t just a song: it’s the comforting presence Hector leaves for his daughter until he sees her again. And then try not to cry.
P.S. The whole idea of music “waking someone up” is ACTUALLY A THING: