The characters in Coco worry about it. They sing about it. They say it over and over again until you shout at the screen, We get it! They come into conflict over being forgotten!!1
One would assume then that an analysis of this Best Animated Feature for 2018 would turn up Memories as a critical inflection point for conflict within the narrative.
The Dramatica theory of story identifies two crucial Storypoints within a Throughline: the Throughline’s Concern and the Throughline’s Benchmark. Both Storypoints interconnect in a holistic and balanced relationship unlike any other two Storypoints within a narrative.
The more the Benchmark appears, the higher the Concern. The less, or weaker the Benchmark looks, the level of tension within the Concern drops appropriately.
In Coco, Memories—or being forgotten—functions as a Benchmark, not as a Concern.
Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) fulfills the role of the Influence Character in Coco. While he spends a considerable amount of time focusing on his fear of being forgotten, it is the level to which everyone ignores him—or disregards him—that is indeed the source of conflict within his Throughline (Influence Character Concern of
Conscious and Influence Character Benchmark of
Likewise, Miguel—as the player holding the perspective of the Main Character Throughline—struggles with his version of remembering. In this case, those memories find storytelling in the shared family history and rejection of all things musical (Main Character Benchmark of
But the Past is not where Miguel finds conflict.
Miguel can’t help but be attracted to something he shows a natural talent for and takes on without first asking his family (Main Character Issue of
Attraction and Main Character Problem of
Proaction). His battle is the here and now, his struggle is being trapped in the figurative and literal land of the Dead when he wants to live through his music (Main Character Concern of
One grows as a result of an alternate perspective with somewhat similar inequities. Hector’s feared disregard resonates with Miguel’s fears of being disregarded and rejected by the family. Hector’s attitude and fear of judgment show Miguel the way through his problems (Influence Character Throughline of
Mind and Influence Character Problem of
The key to Coco’s success lies in the dysfunctional relationship between Hector and Miguel (Relationship Story Throughline of
Psychology). The subtle manipulations and use of each other in satisfying their objectives resonate against the plot-oriented storytelling of family guilt and yearly memorial services (Relationship Story Issue of
Deficiency and Overall Story Issue of
Preconditions). The Relationship Story Throughline balances out the Overall Story Throughline the same way the Influence Character balances out the Main Character Throughline.
The certainty of shared history and expected levels of behavior within a family serves as an excellent counter-balance to the judgments and criticism that fuel the story’s central plot (Relationship Story Problem of
Certainty and Overall Story Problem of
Evaluation). The promise of their newfound family dynamic propels them across the bridge and into a position where the entire family re-examines their misconceptions (Relationship Story Solution of
Potentiality and Overall Story Solution of
Miguel and Hector return home just in time to play one last time for Grandma Coco (Story Limit of
Optionlock and Story Driver of
Action). While he flirts with giving up on his dream, Miguel’s steadfastness and refusal to give into over-reaction grant his family the opportunity to find out what their matriarch thinks of Hector’s music (Main Character Resolve of
Steadfast and Story Outcome of
More importantly—and closer to the heart—this adherence to his point-of-view is just the thing the family needs to rethink their opinion of Hector. And for Hector to reconsider his low opinion of himself (Influence Character Resolve of
Changed and Influence Character Solution of
Miguel’s steadfastness and Hector’s paradigm shift proves to be beneficial for the entire family (Story Judgment of
Good) and provides the kind of significant meaning Audiences expect from a story.
Coco’s sound and functional narrative account for much of the film’s success. The attribution of key challenging perspectives to its principal characters, enrapturing them into an emotional and fulfilling relationship, and balancing this all against a plot integrated with their thematic explorations elevates Coco beyond all others.
In short, a film long remembered.
Note, this may be a result of the regularly repeated viewings of the film over and over again in my house. In fact, it’s on right now! ↩︎