My family and I finally watched Coco over the weekend. We had been trying to get our four-year-old to want to watch it for several months and finally she agreed. She never gave us a reason for not wanting to watch it. She just preferred Frozen, Moana, and Trolls. Since my wife and I can quote all three movies by heart and constantly have “Let it go” streaming in our minds, we had many reasons driving us to get another movie into the rotation.
(There will be spoilers ahead!)
My wife and I have a guilty pleasure for Pixar movies, but with two little girls, we missed seeing Coco on the big screen. We knew only a little bit about the plot; it had themes like family, death, and following dreams, you know, the major kid movie stuff. So when we got to the part of the story when Miguel was tossed into the cave/hole, we expected the obstacle in the storytelling formula. We were not expecting our four-year-old to cry out, “No, he’s not going to get back to his family!” And then start sobbing uncontrollably.
I was sitting next to her and pulled her close, saying, “It’s going to be okay. Just watch and see, honey. There’s more to the story.”
I exchanged a look with my wife. She was cuddling our two-year-old, who had a worried look on her tiny brow. Maybe we weren’t ready for these heavy themes just yet.
Still, we were entering act three. We couldn’t stop now!
Thankfully, Dante and the flying cat saved the day by rescuing Miguel, and my daughter sighed with relief.
She trusted me again… but only for about ten minutes. When the big climax came with Ernesto de la Cruz tossing Miguel over the edge to protect his secret, she tensed up. I tensed up.
This time, my eldest screamed, “No, no no!”
“It’s going to be okay. Just watch and see honey,” I whispered again. This time, I was fighting back my own tears and needed her hugs as much as she needed mine.
Then Dante and the flying cat saved the day again! I cheered loudly to shift the mood. Our two-year-old was bouncing on the couch chanting, “yeah yeah yeah!”
And finally, our four-year-old weary of another plot twist let her guard down and began dancing across our living room as she wiped her tears away.
After the movie ended, and we got the girls in bed, my wife and I processed the movie together and our daughters’ reactions. It was then that I shared the story of watching E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial for the first time.
I was six. It was Easter and the movie was a gift from the Easter Bunny. While my parents and my aunt sat in the kitchen talking, my sister and I plopped down on our couch.
(Again, there will be spoilers, but the movie is over thirty years old, so…)
As a slightly awkward kid with a vivid imagination, Elliott became my personal hero. His friendship with E.T. mirrored friendships I had with my stuffed animals and Lego mini-figs. So, as you might expect, near the climax of the story when an paramedics are doing CPR on E.T., and Elliott is screaming for his friend, I melted down into a sobbing mess on our couch.
I’m not sure if my father heard me, or just happened to walk into our living room to check on us, but he saw my tears and held me in his strong arms. I can’t remember what he said to calm me down, but I’m sure it was similar to the words I shared with my daughter.
“It’s going to be okay. Just watch and see, honey.”
And in the end, it was okay. E.T. wasn’t really dead. Elliott and his friends got E.T. away from the bad men, and all was right in the world.
My wife teased me a little, but told me that I needed to share the story with our eldest. I told her I would. That was an easy story to share with her.
What was not going to be easy was explaining that while we watched Coco there were interfaith prayer vigils being held throughout the country because of the senseless attack on a Jewish community in Pittsburgh. I was still processing and struggling to understand how our nation has come to a place where it is normal for white men to use semi-automatic weapons on their neighbors.
My wife and I made the decision to not attend the vigils because our daughters were too young to understand and would have been bored and disruptive. Instead, we said extra prayers for those who have died and those who are hurting and don’t know how to find help.
We prayed for family and friends who we don’t get to see. We prayed for those who are less fortunate and need help to get through tough times and for those for whom Jesus calls us to clothe and feed and find shelter when no one else will.
We did this because these are the prayers that my parents taught me. We did this because telling them that “it’s all going to be okay. Just watch and see, honey” feels disingenuous and false.
Miguel and Elliott didn’t just wait and see. Anna, Moana, and Poppy didn’t just wait and see either. So while it can be good to introduce the complexity of emotion through the lens of Hollywood-stylized stories, I don’t want my child thinking that every movie has a happy ending because it is written that way or because the sales department tells the writers that this formula gets the most ROI.
I want my daughters knowing that stories have happy endings because people work hard for justice. I want them knowing while the arc may take a lot longer than we want, it is worth the fight. Because for everyone, who gets mistreated by a bully seeking fame and glory or is “othered” because of the differences that they bring to a community, there are those working to build bridges and ready to celebrate them.