Spoilers involving this movie will remained unmarked. Spoilers involving other works will remain marked, though. You Have Been Warned!
Accidental Aesop: According to Imelda, Héctor's motivation for leaving was to "Share his music with the world". In a twist of cruel irony, once he dies, Ernesto shares Héctor and Coco's personal lullaby "Remember Me" with the entire world. And decades later, it's been bastardized into an empty, womanizing show tune (and to a lesser extent, a song to , one that Héctor never intended it to be. Although not intentional, one could count it as a lesson in being an artist: 'be careful what you share with the world, because once it's shared, it technically belongs to everyone from here on.'
Héctor: Did he leave his family on his own accord or was he encouraged or coerced into touring by Ernesto? "Coco: A Story About Music, Shoes and Family" mentions that Héctor left for the simple reason of gaining inspiration for his music, and it's implied that Ernesto had to convince him to leave his family temporarily. But Héctor quickly regretted leaving and made plans to return home, but we all know how that turned out.
When he entrusts Miguel with his photo, is he trying to get over the bridge to see Coco before he disappears, or is he hoping for a long enough burst of longevity to be able to greet Coco when she crosses over?
Did Imelda truly believe that her husband had abandoned her and Coco for music? Or did she still miss him but set about a ban on music and purge of all memory of him to suppress her sadness so that she could raise her daughter and subsequent family?
Ernesto: Did he ever consider Héctor a friend or was he using him for the sake of fame? It's revealed in the novelisation "Coco: A Story About Music, Shoes and Family" that Héctor and Ernesto were childhood friends and Héctor held him in high regard. But what did Ernesto think of Héctor back then? Was he always a Jerkass even as a boy? Or was he a truly good friend who was corrupted by his desire for fame?
Did Ernesto feel any remorse for murdering Héctor? Was him putting his own murder of his friend in his movie, just showing off that he got away with it? Or trying to ease his own guilt? Notably, the poisoner in the movie is the villain and ends up getting beaten up by their would-be victim. Notice that when Ernesto pours the tequila for himself and Héctor, he is not putting anything else in either glass. While this could be just something that wasn't added to save time, it could imply the drink was already poisoned, meaning Ernesto might have been planning to kill his best friend and steal his work all along. Notice how he hesitates to take one sip of his drink.
Applicability: Much has been written about the (presumed unintentional given Animation Lead Time) topicality of a story about discovering one's favorite celebrity is secretly a horrible person, as the film came out amidst revelations that the American entertainment industry had been covering up decades of sexual abuse by prominent people.
Dante has created some heated debates among fans of the movie as well as critics. The critics usually portray him as a dumb mutt, who felt tacked on to give the movie an animal comic relief. Unfavorable comparisons to Hei Hei, another divisive character, are made. His fans are eager to jump to his defense, arguing that Dante is smarter than he seems and that that Miguel and Héctor would've never met and Miguel would've died if it wasn't for him.
Ernesto De La Cruz. One side thinks that he's a great villain, or he's at the very least tolerated. The other thinks that he wasn't necessary as a character, thinking that Héctor dying by accident when he tried to return would've been a stronger and more realistic story. However, the general reception is that he's one of the better-executed Disney twist villains.
Critical Research Failure: Not the final film, where Pixar has Shown Their Work, but the earlier plotline about a Mexican American boy discovering the holiday in the aftermath of his mother's death and learning to let her go and move on with his life. As admitted by Lee Unkrich, this is the opposite of what the Day of the Dead is about, and was due to Values Dissonance caused by the fact that none of the people originally involved with the movie were Mexican or Hispanic.
Ernesto's death. It's not every day someone is crushed to death by a giant bell. The fact that it becomes a Brick Joke with his defeat, and the fact that he majorly deserves it, even if it was an accident, only makes it funnier.
The band of purple-suited skeletons who help Miguel on his way, thanks to both their awesome music display, great look, and being incredibly nice folks overall.
The man at Ernesto's Sunshine Spectacular who missed the entire climax.
El Santo only gets a momentary cameo with no lines, but considering he is pretty much theMemetic Badass of Mexican culture it's hardly a surprise that people cheered his appearance.
The one goofy guy◊ in the audience (during the "Battle of the Bands" scene) who absolutely loves the trio of accordion-playing nuns, and is enthusiastically dancing along to their music as everybody else in the audience just stares in confusion/annoyance. Despite only being on-screen for two seconds, he got a lot of laughs out of viewers.
Among Miguel's living family, his cousin Rosa is popular for her attitude and the fact that she became a proficient violinist herself in the ending. Among the dead Riveras, Tia Victoria is popular for being the only one who doesn't cower in the face of Imelda's blessing.
Fandom-Enraging Misconception: While fans of both Coco and The Book of Life don't mind if one compares one with the other, do not call Coco a Book of Life ripoff in front of any Coco fan. Unless you want to hear a lengthy speech about the massive differences between the two works, as the only thing they have in common is the setting, the protagonists having vague similarities and both taking place on the Day of the Dead.
Even with Ernesto being revealed as a murderer in both the dead and living worlds, it is possible that at least one Loony Fan would still put up an ofrenda for him. If they did, would he be able to cross over? And would he try to take revenge on Miguel and the Rivera family? Is it possible to take revenge in the spirit plane? Or what if said Loony Fan took it upon themselves to take revengeon Miguel and his family?
Everyone in the Land of the Dead is Mexican. Are there different afterlives for people of other cultures? The Land of the Dead exists, but what about Valhalla, the Elysian Fields, Aaru, or Yomi-no-kuni? And what happens to someone who dies but doesn't believe in any afterlife?
What happens to a skeleton after their Final Death? Are they erased from existence, are they reincarnated, or do they move on to heaven...or hell? Do they go to The Land of the Forgotten?
Aside from the information shown in the movie, what were Imelda's, Héctor's, Ernesto's and the other dead characters' lives like when they were alive? Some details are given, but there's plenty of room for fanfic writers to fill in the gaps.
The Rivera family's ofrenda contains a few photos of family members who are not seen with the deceased Riveras in the Land of the Dead. Who are they? What happened to them?
In a more.... sad yet bittersweet case, killing off Miguel so young to have him reunite with the dead Rivera members in the Land of the Dead is also common fanfic fuel. Bonus points if the fanfics show Miguel bonding with Héctor over the fact they both died young.
Exactly how Miguel was able to expose Ernesto's murder and plagiarism in the Land of the Living during the ending's Time Skip is the subject of quite a few fanfics.
On a related but slightly more morbid note, locating Héctor's physical remains in the Land of the Living and reinterring him with Coco and Imelda is usually touched on in such fics.
What would've happened if someone other than Miguel made the journey to the Land of the Dead?
When and how did any of the minor characters in the Land of the Dead, well, die? Specially the ones that look young? What's their story?
An in-story version: when Miguel first learns the story of how Héctor died, which his slum-musician friends play off as him choking on his food while Héctor claims it was food poisoning, everyone mocks him and laughs at him; even Miguel laughs. But then we learn he was actually given a poisoned drink by Ernesto, who played off the symptoms as food poisoning — and Héctor, not knowing any better, believed this for 96 years. Not funny at all now.
Another in-story example: At first, Héctor's zany schemes to get back into the Land of the Living look comical... until you learn why he wants to cross over. It's so he can see his daughter, the only person alive who remembers him and who is slowly losing her memory, meaning he'll fade away from the Land of the Dead soon. He's not just being goofy, he's desperate.
Crosses over with Bilingual Bonus: The untranslated song at the climax, La Llorona, was probably first sung in the years of the Mexican Revolution. The genius here is that Imelda opened the shoe-making workshop on 1921, based on a sign on the Rivera's house, so of course she knows so well the song: she was there when La Llorona became popular! Also that means that Imelda, Héctor and Ernesto went through the fighting years.
Furthermore, the line Imelda sings while tenderly looking at Héctor is "I won't stop loving you".
After Miguel and Héctor's meeting with Ernesto goes bad, both are tossed into what looks to be an old well some 100 feet deep leading into a natural cave. The typical name for a dungeon built like this is an "oubliette", which means "place of forgetting." What's the one thing the people in the land of the dead fear?
In addition, said holes are "cenotes," found in the Yucatan peninsula, where the asteroid that helped kill the dinosaurs hit, and were revered by the Mayans as both a source of freshwater and as an entrance into the afterlife.
Miguel uses Héctor's song to remind Mama Coco of him. Music is often used to help trigger memories in older people with Alzheimers.
Frida Kahlo's dance number is a Bilingual Bonus for people familiar with Mexican dirty slang, where "papaya" refers to a woman's nether regions.
The architecture in the Land of the Dead is a clever summary of Mexican history, with the lowest levels being Mayan-inspired, then Aztec, then colonial Spanish, then Victorian, and finally Art Déco and modern styles, all built on top of each other.
The town the family lives in is called Santa Cecilia. St. Cecilia is the patron saint of music, making the Rivera's outright rejection of it all the more ironic.
It also won back the crowd in Spain, where some had accused Disney/Pixar of being lazy and cheap before release, due to the fact that there is no Same Language Dubfor the country. After the movie came out, the Mexican dub was praised instead for its quality (with even minor characters voiced by first line actors), and immersive power, due to the story being so profoundly Mexican.
Unsurprisingly, it's this in Mexico, because it's so rare to see such a high quality and accurate portrayal of their country. It was so popular that it got an additional screening the very next year.
The Reveal (the beloved Ernesto de la Cruz is actually a fraud and murderer) is a lot harder to swallow after Pixar founder/CEO and hero to many aspiring animators John Lasseter took a leave of absence, and ultimately resigned at the end of the next year, following reports of his history of sexual misconduct and mistreatment of female and minority employees. Even worse, it occurred 1 day before the movie was released! And not just Lasseter. The movie came out within a period of accusations of sexual assault and harassment by much respected and famous actors and other film/television industry big shots that destroyed fans' passion for them and their work, much like how Ernesto's actions being revealed to the public almost instantly turned his fans against him. Additionally, reportedly John Lasseter stole the idea and credit for Cars from one Jorgen Klubien, an animator who was friends with Lasseter at CalArts and later Pixar, and booted Klubien to script-writing before removing him from the film altogether. The parallels to Héctor, Héctor's friendship with Ernesto de la Cruz, and how Cruz ultimately threw Héctor, his best friend, under the bus in order to steal Héctor's idea and went on to fame and glory are eerie.
Miguel is pressured to accept Elena's tamales even though he isn't hungry any more, and she piles several onto his plate. The year of the film's release, the OECD rated Mexico has having the highest obesity rate of any country in the world, with the Mexico Ministry of Health expressing special concern over an increase in childhood obesity.
Part of Miguel's plea for Mama Imelda to help retrieve Héctor's photo could apply to viewers who want to continue appreciating John Lasseter's contributions to animation, without condoning his behavior out of the spotlight.
You don't have to forgive him, but we shouldn't forget him.
Miguel and Héctor's performance is definitely this. Given that both are strangers (later revealed to be great-great grandson and great-great grandfather) yet perform so well together will bring a smile to everyone's face.
The eponymous Mama Coco. Her father left her when she was very young and was murdered on his way back. She was raised by a very embittered mother. When she herself grew older, both her husband and one of her daughters passed away before her. And through it all, she likely witnessed most of her descendants hating on her father for decades. Despite all these, the woman appears to be unfaltered by negativity.
Héctor might be the biggest Iron Woobie in Pixar history, or even in all of Disney history, period. He left his wife and child to pursue a music career with his friend Ernesto. When he changed his mind and tried to go back home to his family, Ernesto poisoned him, stole his songs to make himself rich and famous, and let Héctor's family believe he abandoned them for the sake of his own dream. As a result, his wife Imelda and the rest of his family hated him, deliberately forgot his memory, and refused to put his picture on the ofrenda, preventing him from crossing over to the living world on Dia de los Muertos, even to see his daughter Coco, the only person who still loved and remembered him. Reduced to living in the slums with other family-less skeletons, cut off from both his living and dead family, he was forced to watch Ernesto become rich, famous, and beloved on the songs that he stole from Héctor, while Héctor himself never got any credit for them or even got invited to Ernesto's parties. But still, he never gave up hope that he would see Coco again. Every year, he tried to cross over and see her, but failed each time. He tried for years and years and years, until Coco herself was a senile old woman on her deathbed, about to forget him for good, which meant he would fade away without ever seeing her again. It's only when Miguel comes into his life that he gets the chance to uncover the truth, finally be reunited with his family, and be remembered as the legendary songwriter and loving family man he really was. Héctor had to wait a long time and go through a great deal of hell to get his happy ending, but there's no doubt that he really really needed one.
Imelda, too. Even though Miguel has been stifled by her influence since birth, some admiration creeps through in his narration of her life, especially when he says "She didn't have time to cry over that walkaway musician!" Being a single mother is never easy (especially since there weren't a lot of options for women in 1920s Mexico), but Imelda did it so successfully that her descendants revere her to this day, and her business is still supporting her family decades after her death. And when she finds out that her no-good, useless husband didn't mean to abandon her, that he was on his way home when he was murdered, she's at first indignant — "So what if it's true?!" But she rallies, puts her feelings behind her, and is the real MVP in the effort to try and get Héctor's photo on the ofrenda so he can see their daughter again. The scene at the end where all three of these characters, Héctor, Coco, and Imelda, are finally reunited as a family, is one of the most heartwarming and cathartic moments in the history of Pixar.
Just Here for Godzilla: Some fans of Frozen went to see the movie in theaters during the first two weeks just to see the new Christmas special, "Olaf's Frozen Adventure," which played before it. Conversely, others who didn't care about the short deliberately showed up to their screening late to avoid having to watch it.
Mexicans Love Speedy Gonzales: Mexicans love how loyal the movie is to one of their oldest and most cherished traditions, as well as being a very beautiful and accurate tribute to Mexican culture in general. The movie debuted in Mexico on October 30th. By November 15th it became the highest-grossing film ever in that country. Not bad for a movie that caused a backdraft when it was first announced!
Mind Game Ship: Hector/Ernesto (Also known as Ernector.) There's surprisingly a decent amount of fanfics made about the pairing despite the latter's murder of the former.
The merchandise with Héctor and the phrase "Seize Your Moment"... as in, the bad guy's reasoning for killing him.
Pepita and Dante are awesome alebrijes, so naturally there is official Disney marketing of them. Whether or not they pay royalties to the still-living Mexican family who created the concept of alebrijes, and with alebrijes being a very closely-protected cultural heritage of Mexico, is another issue.
Moe: Miguel is just so cute! Especially in skeleton makeup!
Narm: In the scene where Miguel and Héctor are thrown into the sinkhole, Héctor reveals Coco is his daughter, thus he is actually his great-great grandpa. Though this is a somewhat serious scene, when Miguel says, "Coco?", his lips sticking out expression makes him look like he's making a duckface.
Frida Kahlo, mostly for the utterly hilarious and incomprehensible opening act she plans for Ernesto's concert. It involves multiple versions of herself emerging from a papaya, Frida being a giant cactus as well as her own mother, and her children drinking her "milk" which is really the cactus's tears. Then, after talking with Miguel, she plans to also set it all on fire.
Famous Mexican wrestler El Santo shows up twice in the whole film, first trying to gain entry to Ernesto's party and taking a picture with one of his fans, then singing along with a number of other posthumous celebrities in a split-second cameo at the party. Truly, even in death, his legacy will live on.
Chicharrón, Héctor's 'friend' who lives in the slum of the Forgotten. He's only there for one scene before he dies a final death, but the whole scene leading up to his death very gut-wrenching, marks the movie's turn to a more serious tone, and reveals Héctor to be more than what he seems to be.
The Mariachi player who gets his shoes shined by Miguel at the beginning of the film and plays an unwitting Watson to him. Even though he's uninterested in Miguel's story and would rather the boy shine his shoes; he still made a point to pay attention and offers some earnest advice as well as an opportunity try and play his guitar. His encouragement is partly what makes Miguel seriously reflect on his love of music vs. his family duties.
Miguel strumming the skull guitar and marigold petals surrounding him.
Miguel seeing the Land of the Dead for the first time.
Miguel and Héctor's duet "Un Poco Loco".
Miguel singing "Remember Me" to Mama Coco.
Superlative Dubbing: Many Latin American Spanish speakers heavily preferred the Latin American Spanish version of the soundtrack over the English version. It helps that both versions had an All-Star Cast.
Initially, fans of The Book of Life were quick to write this off as a rip-off. The fact that this was conceived and directed by Lee Unkrich, a white man from Ohio, while Book was written and directed by Jorge Gutiérrez, a native Mexican, only added fuel to the fire. Gutiérrez has been very vocal about his support for the film on social media and even had to tell fans he was interested in seeing the film. This controversy has mostly died down after Coco's release, as while the films do have some similarities there are also large differences.
Coco has been accused of ripping off a cartoon called El Tigrenote coincidentally also made by Jorge Gutiérrez since both main characters have Rivera as a last name and the setting is Mexico. However, this was most likely coincidental.
They Wasted a Perfectly Good Plot: Despite all the apparent lead-up to it, we don't get to see the moment Héctor and Coco reunite in the afterlife, only interactions afterwards. The creators might have thought that Miguel singing "Remember Me" to Coco was the emotional climax of the film and adding another one would overdo it and possibly disrupt the pacing.
For the title character, Mama Coco is little more than a Chekhov's Gunman - we never really see the struggle on her side to keep her belived father's memory alive, all we see is that she still remembers him years later.
More They Wasted a Perfectly Good Gag, but you'd think for a movie with prominent music and skeletons, there'd be at least one reference to The Skeleton Dance.
Dante is a hairless stray dog with derpy eyes and a tongue that constantly lolls out...and he's so loyal and affectionate that it's impossible not to love him. Who's a good boy?
The skeletons that live in Land of the Dead count too. Héctor is a prime example - he is a funny-looking skeleton who looks borderline zombie-like and wears ugly ragged clothes, but he is also so charming and funny that he is actually kind of adorable. His tragic backstory and relationship with Miguel definitely helps.
The skeletons having normal eyes in their sockets falls into this for some. Though they would probably look a lot creepier without them.
Héctor in particular, since the way he walks and his torn clothes sometimes make him look like an actual zombie.
Ernesto is considerably more human-looking than the usual cartoonish skeletons, which just serves to highlight his undead nature.
Miguel's skeleton transformation due to staying in the Land of the Dead for far too long. Though played for humor at first, it can get rather disturbing after it takes further effect, especially when its 95% complete prior to getting sent home with Imelda and Héctors blessing.
Some people think that Mamá Coco's skin is way too realistic, to the point it looks kind of unsettling and almost gross.
Values Dissonance: The film is set in a small town in rural Mexico, where interconnectivity between generations is treated very seriously and with the utmost respect. As such, given the choice between family and passions, "family comes first." The film does make it a point to show that elders can be wrong, but does so very gently, and the possibility of simply pursuing your dreams regardless of whether your grandmother (let alone your long dead great-great grandmother) approves is just not acceptable.
Visual Effects of Awesome: The animation is exactly what one would expect from Pixar. For reference, the scene where the Land of the Dead scene is introduced alone is an image with twelve layers, 3,000 unique buildings, and seven million individual light sources of varying kinds (i.e. light bulbs and candles), with dozens of different shades of every color of the rainbow.
While it's possible that he was just that confident that his secret was just that safe, Ernesto did not need to put the way he murdered Héctor on one of his films, down to his parting speech; and his arrogance cost him everything.
He also didn't need to steal Héctor's guitar. If he hadn't done that, Miguel would never have connected de la Cruz to his family and tried to steal from his crypt, and thus never would have gone to the Land of the Dead and discovered what happened.
The fact that he felt the need to murder Héctor at all. While he lacked the ability to write songs, Ernesto was handsome, charismatic, talented at singing and playing guitar, and the two were already on the cusp of fame when Héctor decided to go home. Ernesto's paths forward were numerous and likely very, very easily accomplished.
Lastly, he was arrogant and stupid enough to not destroy Hector's photo and throw him into a cenote because he believed that Hector was already forgotten. Instead, Hector comes back, this time with his family, and takes back the photo. Even when they do lose the photo, the whole scenario wouldve never happened if it werent for Ernesto's never-ending arrogance.
Miguel insists that the guitar that cursed him belonged to his great-great-grandfather, and the clerk confirms that the curse is a family matter. You'd Expect: Imelda would realize that Miguel shouldn't know who her husband was, and even if he did that he couldn't have found his guitar, given what she thinks she knows about him. Or at least realize that there was more to the story of her husband than she believed. Instead: She reacts exactly the same way as Elena at the mention of her husband without a second thought, reinforcing Miguel's mistaken belief of the identity of his great-great-grandfather.
When Miguel bails from his family, there's no doubt he's going to look for his great-great-grandfather to get a blessing without her conditions. By the time she catches up to Miguel, it's obvious that he's not going to accept her blessing if it comes with a "no music" condition. You'd Expect: Imelda would put returning Miguel home alive as a greater priority than forcing him to continue the family tradition. Instead: She again implores Miguel to choose between staying alive and being a musician, leading him to bail on her again.
There's just no excuse for not noticing Miguel singing and dancing at a music competition with her husband, especially since the song they were singing was written for her by Héctor.
In general, Imelda seems to be operating under the logic that music can rip families apart, and only music can rip families apart. The idea that something else, like, say, being forced to give up your dreams under threat of death, might cause some tension doesn't seem to occur to her.
What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: It's a family film based on the Dia de los Muertos, which gives a lot of focus on the concept of death, including a backstory scene where a character is shown dying on-screen from poison.
Early reviews for this movie seems to indicate that it's a step in the right direction for Pixar, with critics saying that while it's a bit more familiar than Pixar's classic movies, it also has considerably more effort put into it than the rest of their Dork Age movies (minus Inside Out and Finding Dory).
Poor Héctor. All he did was befriend Ernesto, and in turn, he was killed by his friend, his wife assumed he had abandoned her and their daughter, and his family disowned him as a result. When Miguel meets him, his only motivation is to see his daughter again but he cannot cross the marigold bridge and once his daughter dies he will disappear forever before they can reunite on the Land of the Dead.
Héctor's daughter, Coco, might count, given that for all the years she missed him, since she could not put his photo up on the ofrenda, she couldn't even feel his presence while she was alive.
Sure, Miguel's a plucky and outgoing kid on the surface, but he has had to live with his family's constant disapproval of his passion for music, which drives him to increasingly desperate measures to live his dream, which leads to a lot of Break the Cutie and Kick the Dog moments for him throughout the movie. By the end of it all, you really need to give the poor boy a hug for all he's put through.
Imelda, too. She's a total Iron Woobie. As Miguel states in the intro, she rose from the ashes of her husband's abandonment to become a successful single mother and entrepreneur. So successful that her business is still supporting her descendants decades after her death, and she died surrounded by a loving, multi-generational family that still honors her today, even though she started with just herself and her daughter. But then, after her great-great-grandson nearly dies and she has to "fish him out of a sinkhole" because he found that no-good, walkaway musician husband of hers... she's forced to confront the fact that not only did her husband not intend to abandon her, he was murdered by his best friend because he refused to abandon her. Her husband, that she admits she still loves, was dead all along, and because of her anger and betrayal, she's all but assured that he will cease to exist that same night when all he wanted was to see their child again.
Woolseyism: In the Danish and Norwegian dub, the title of "Remember Me" is "Forglem Mig Ej/Forglem Meg Ei", which literally translates to "Forget Me Not". Said phrase is also the name of a flower, and is a very poetic way of speaking, making it very suitable for a song.