Edgar Cochran’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Jesus said unto him: Let the dead bury their dead, but go thou and preach the kingdom of God."
A spoiler-free letter from the heart of a humble Mexican movie aficionado that wishes to be read from a Christian perspective, with a grateful heart, and yet with a very sad one, not only aimed at Pixar, but towards any person around the world that might be interested in the perspective of a young Mexican voice:
Dear Pixar Animation Studios:
As one of my axiomatic personal rules in my movie-watching appreciation, there is one rule that I manage to successfully fulfill around 92% of the times: to keep expectations from any movie before watching it to zero. So I did that with what you labelled as Pixar’s embrace to Mexico, a love letter to your southern neighbor country with which you share exclusive cultural, historical and geographical bonds. While I was watching the film with a troubled heart, what would be a standard review fully developing the sentiments of the catharsis and cultural landscape empathy that I was feeling throughout its greatly crafted artistic and musical development, slowly evolved into an essay and finally was transformed into a conviction to write a digital letter to you, expressing my mixed sentiments about one of the most accurate depictions I have seen about pervasively detailed layers of the Mexican culture since Eisenstein and Buñuel despite the current elitist and discriminatory Trump political and economic agenda. Nevertheless, this also represents one of the most dangerous blows you have given to my compatriots from all ages and genders alike who, after watching this during the Día de los Muertos festivities, have come out from the theaters deeply moved, thankful, even flattered with tears in their eyes.
First of all, thank you. Thanks for visiting our country despite the current tumultuous times, for getting into the streets of big cities and little rural towns, from Guanajuato and Michoacán to Oaxaca and Mexico City, states that suffered great structural damages and human losses from a recent historical earthquake that caught the attention of the world. Despite this, people found in God the strength to survive, and all foreign aid received, not only material, but artistic as well, was a landmark and heartwarming gesture from around the world, and you, Pixar artists, are included. In the process, you learned how to love your geographical neighbor and, together, we experienced the construction of stronger bonds built through personal stories, the importance of family, traditions and music, but most importantly, through our human traits. This is, to put it childishly, but succinctly, amazing.
Thank you for listening to our people and studying our family structure without generalizing it. Any Mexican here knows that the chancla, a colloquial Mexican term for “sandal”, is the deadliest weapon ever used by Mexican mothers with the astonishing accuracy and effectiveness of a samurai. No child could escape the power of the mother’s chancla. This is well represented here. Thanks for also somewhat faithfully representing the matriarchal family organization that has run among the generations for so long, especially since the Mexican Revolution of 1910, when gender inequalities started to accentuate and an alarming percentage of men, the supposed-to-be head-of-the-family members, abandoned their families. The amazingly strong women raised families by their own, with no other help beyond their relatives and closest friends in the fortunate case they had any. Finally, you correctly grasped how families, very similarly to Latin America and Italy, form multigenerational conglomerates. The children live with their parents, who live with their respective parents, who live with their respective parents. You have the great-grandmother abandoned by the great-grandfather living with the grandparents living with the parents living with the children, and all these big families know each other.
I, like many people in my country, have lived in said families and have been invited by other similar families. Indeed, there is a predominant female presence and men have no longer a sense of family responsibility and authority like they should have, the woman lives frustrated because she is undertaking huge responsibilities that she cannot handle alone, the grandmother keeps making amazing food and the traditional tamales (because the grandmother, by some inexplicable tradition, has an astonishing ability to cook amazing dishes, INCLUDING tamales), and more than often, fathers are not present. Families, against God’s will, grow up like that.
And so, finally, we come to the predominant matter at hand: the absolutely colorful representation you have given to Mexico, a very colorful country indeed, from its architecture to its street decorations and its offerings to the deceased family members from many generations ago. The music, the mariachis, the fireworks, the papel picado (the paper used to call for the spirits of the deceased), the way people play their guitars, the costume designs, the celebrations, the cemeteries, and the emblematic location of Santa Cecilia in Mexico City, a place all family generations have got to know at least once... everything is here. We also have the honest depiction of how there is a strong conviction in Mexican blood that the youngest family members must continue the same profession/dedication their fathers and grandfathers did, and this must be done in perpetual motion, despite generational changes in society. Many of us, including myself, have suffered this pressure from our elders, even if our inclinations and personal gifts differ from our own older blood. We have the flowers of cempasúchitl serving its superstation purpose of guiding the spirits of the deceased back to their graves, where the families have gathered to remember them, to offer them food and to spend time with them.
I have to be honest: my heart jumped out of grateful emotion when I saw the little details that for foreigners might pass unperceived, but that mean the world to us Mexicans:
- A “Pizza Planeta” truck passes in front of our faces playing a mariachi song during the very first minutes of the opening scenes. A FREAKING MARIACHI SONG!
- This surprise was continued when I saw an accurately replicated Santa Cecilia and other rural towns with similar architecture displaying Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. piñatas in a shop. This is not at all away from the truth.
- A traditional dog, very well known here for its endemism and its strong relation with the Aztec (aka Mexica culture), happens to be the animal companion of the protagonist.
- Tied to the previous point, the “alebrijes”, brightly colored Mexican folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures first originated with Mexican artisan Pedro Linares, play an important part in the cultural development of the plot as the guides of the deceased in the Land of the Dead.
- The Mexican Golden Age of cinema was portrayed, although briefly, with a very humorous touch, and I cannot neglect any representation made towards it.
- My jaw dropped when I first saw the Land of the Dead not only because of its astonishing design, but also because of my simultaneous conscious realization that it was entirely based on the looks of Guanajuato, one of my favorite places to visit throughout Mexico repeatedly, not to diminish the astonishing cultural variety present throughout this magnificent country. To top it all, the entrance to the Land of the Dead features the magnificent Pyramids of Teotihuacán, and the waiting room is a replica of the Postal Palace of Mexico City.
- You gave cameos to, literally, Mexican legends of international recognition stature, such as:
1) Frida Kahlo, the divisive, emblematic and always suffering artist of tremendous emotional depth
2) Diego Rivera, the communist muralist of always socially-inclined artworks, husband of Frida Kahlo
3) Pedro Infante, one of the two people to inspire the character of Ernesto de la Cruz, legendary icon of Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema and of ranchera music, with more than 60 films and 300 songs to his favor that anybody in this country could recognize easily
4) Jorge Negrete, one of the two people to inspire the character of Ernesto de la Cruz, the competitive counterpart of Jorge Negrete: outstanding singer and talented actor, but not as transcendent as the great Infante
5) Mario Moreno aka Cantinflas, the “Mexican Charles Chaplin” (and in many aspects even better than him), unrepeated and unmatched actor, comedian, director, writer and idealist, considered the greatest comedian of all Spanish-speaking countries of all times
6) Agustín Lara, distinguished composer and singer of boleros
7) Dolores del Río, arguably the greatest Mexican film actress of all times, essential to the exploration of Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema, and the first one to get Hollywood appraisal
8) María Félix, the “maximum diva of Mexican cinema” and equally emblematic as Dolores del Río at a Latin American scale
9) El Santo, iconic professional wrestler and Mexican actor, protagonist of endless absurd sci-fi and espionage fighting films, who grew up to an extent of becoming a world symbol
10) Emiliano Zapata, symbol of the rural Mexican resistance during the Mexican Revolution, a key leader during said conflict and in charge of the Liberation Army of the South, force commonly known as the “zapatistas” from 1910 to 1920.
Finally, you had the bravery of creating an original soundtrack recorded by approximately 50 musicians in Mexico City that sounds Mexican above all things, but I must admit that the mariachi musical quality is brutally misrepresented here compared to its real-life, world-widely recognized force, impact, passion and quality. Nevertheless, this is an experience that must be quintessentially witnessed and felt with a Mexican heart, and for the first time in my entire history of movie-watching, I will not care about the original English dubbing, simply because it makes absolutely no sense. I will move on for the rest of my life pretending that the version I saw dubbed to Spanish is the only one that exists, especially when it features the voices of many Mexican actors, including Gael García Bernal and Luis Ángel Gómez Jaramillo, a twelve-year-old native to Guanajuato whose passion from singing came from her grandmother and, thanks to his talents, he could make small earnings to pay for his studies. His performance is one of the best child dubbings I have ever heard in any film animation from across the world.
Thanking you again that I have kept your attention until this point, I must address something terribly painful: that you got inspired by the most harmful and dangerous traditions of them all, and through an undeniably emotionally moving ride that didn’t fail to bring me to tears like a kid again, convinces people to strengthen said tradition that has brought shortcomings to many, including many close relatives and third-party testimonies because of the terrible demonic activity unleashed by these practices.
This is not a question of rubbing “my” “beliefs” or “religion” over your faces; it is about warning about the shortcomings and consequences of these practices not endorsed by God. They are threatening and have provoked tragedies in many places, including people close to me, which I won’t mention for the sake of their privacy. The Bible states that there are only two places where the human soul can go: Heaven or Hell. There is no mention of any “purgatory”. This compels me to speak with the same frankness I spoke with during my controversial Insidious (2010) review, not because I seek attention, but because I believe in God with the same strength that I believe in the evil that the prince of this world, the devil, has cast upon us, and I wish for the well-being of all souls. I must also use this opportunity to thank all the people that read my review of Insidious, in case you are reading me again, and believed me because you know I am a person that has absolutely no incentives to lie. I care about people; I love people and their souls.
Mexico is an extremely diverse cultural country with many artistic and musical heritages; each state is one world of its own, like if Mexico was made of many different countries, and still there is a feeling of unity between all of us Mexicans, the one that rises to the surface between Latin Americans when greater circumstances, beneficial or catastrophic, take place, like Puerto Rico’s destruction by hurricane María, or the earthquake in Mexico. What is so shameful is that, among all aspects that could have been treated in a Pixar film without dismissing the possibility of creating a greatly crafted fantastical setting, the Día de los Muertos festivities had to be chosen. Your film takes the effective emotional route and reaches people’s hearts into convincing them that they should keep supporting these dangerous idolatry practices when, actually, it is entirely possible to remember your ancestors and recently deceased family members keeping mementos or photographs of them. I take great pride and sentiment in the amazing collection of photographs and letters of my family that go back to the 1910s, during the Mexican Revolution, that my family has kept. It is like a time machine. However, these souls already have their resting place. The last ones to come during these cultural/musical/cadaverous make-up/gastronomical celebrations are the spirits of the deceased; you invite other disastrous, evil entities.
So, dear studios, I am thankful with a mournful heart, because you just strengthened in moved Mexican hearts the conviction that something harmful should not only be retained, but strengthened and widespread. It’s lamentable. Before being a Mexican, I am one of God’s children, and thus have the obligation to express this, not the obligation to convince you, or convince any reader that is taking his/her time right now to get to know the perspective of a Mexican towards a film with a big, Mexican heart placed right in the middle of it. I am just expressing my opinion and warning people with a preoccupied heart that these festivities bring along more evil than good. Worry for the souls of the living; do not invite demons home to further increase the current tragedies and hardships of families making them invite something they are not aware of because they simplify this as an ancient tradition that must be kept in order to keep, among other things, a national identity, which I proudly wear as well.
And with this artistic objectivity, I recognize your creativity, naïve intentions, commitment, art direction, imagination and good-intentioned embrace of Mexico, a colorful nation with endlessly attractive traditions. Thanks for wanting to break the boundaries that political figures want to physically and socially insert between us; but there is something even greater than us that unites us all as human beings, and that is being creations of God. Higher than the human level is the spiritual level, and I live happily for it, and I will die for it. I will always live for the One that died for my sins... for all our sins.
God bless you all, and I reiterate my gratitude for keeping 3D imagination alive while being socially conscious and tearing down walls.