You might not think it, but the arts have a far bigger impact in your world than you think. They’re everywhere, and so is integration. Arts integration in Hollywood is evidence of that. So this winter when you’re drinking cocoa to warm your body, watch Disney/Pixar’s Coco to warm your heart and soul. If you have not seen Coco, you should – even if you are not into animated movies! When the trailer first came out, I wanted to see this movie but unfortunately, I never made it. Lucky for me, it was nominated for many awards. It won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Motion Picture. It was also nominated for Best Original Song Motion Picture and 13 Annie Awards (awards specifically for animated films). So thankfully, one of my local theaters brought it back and gave me a second chance.
Arts Integration in Hollywood
This movie is arts integration at its finest. It is also a great argument for the need for arts education. Without it, a film like this could never have been made. It takes a cultural tradition (Dia de los Muertos) and mixes it with music, visual art, and great storytelling. This creates a media arts feast for the eyes, ears and heart. It also manages to remind viewers of the importance of family, of honoring our elders and our heritage. Lastly, it educates the public about this Mexican holiday.
To start, the animation was amazing. The quality of animation in Pixar films constantly blows me away. Watching the fingers of the characters playing guitar shows the attention to detail that makes this one of the good ones. Because most of the characters are skeletons, they provided a challenge to animators to have them move differently than humans who have muscle and can move smoothly. After viewing the film, I was combing the internet for more behind the scenes information and discovered a website that points out lots of fun hidden Pixar references and points out some foreshadowing provided by the animators.
It’s not only the animation that is mind-blowing but also the sheer beauty. The images of the Land of the Dead were dripping with color and images of Mexican and Aztec architecture. It looks positively magical and gives some great laughs as well featuring systems from the Land of the Living as well as old technology like some classic desktop computers. The town in Mexico which is home to the movie’s living focus family was preparing to celebrate Dia De Los Muertos. It is rich with iconography of the holiday. The skulls, the marigolds, the ofrendas, the papel picado (tissue paper cut into traditional designs) abound. They give your eyes so much to drink in. Not to mention all the festively attired dead who have crossed over for the holiday to visit their relatives in the Land of the Living.
What adds to the visual beauty of the film is the beauty, fun and significance of the music. The protagonist is Miguel, a young boy who wants to be a musician but something from the family’s past has caused the family to ban music and devote their artistry to shoemaking. As the film progresses we are treated to mariachi music, solo vocals, duets and beautiful guitar playing. “Remember Me” appears multiple times in the movie and takes on greater significance as the story unfolds. There are Miguel’s hero’s version , the singer/songwriter Hector’s version, and Miguel’s duet with his grandmother.
There is more than one instance where music brings loved ones together but the most moving is that final rendition of “Remember Me” which shows the phenomenon that music can help reach those with dementia in a touching scene with Miguel and his failing grandmother. This interaction helps to bring an end to the family’s ban on music. I recommend tissues for that scene (and many others, come to think of it).
The Art of Storytelling
Finally, there is simply great storytelling. There is the universal story of wanting to belong, of love and conflict in family, of the importance of family, the importance of knowing and appreciating your ancestors and then there is an education in Mexican culture. The Latino actors who portrayed these characters emphasized how respectful the film’s creators were to the Mexican culture. In a press conference with some of the cast and creators, Edward James Olmos who voiced a character with a small but significant role talks about what he feels is the importance of this movie for Mexicans, especially at this time in this country. It is definitely worth taking a listen.
So, if you get the chance, check out Coco and revel in how many different aspects of arts integration you can find. Sit down with a box of tissues, some loved ones and let Coco entertain, elevate and educate you.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.