In Disney Pixar Coco, one character, Chicharrón, is the representation of what it means to die a final death. It’s a serious topic, but Edward James Olmos, the actor who does the voice of Chicharrón, pulls it off very well. You might recognize him from one of his many roles since 1974, including Lieutenant Martin Castillo in Miami Vice. As a Mexican-American actor who grew up in East LA, the story of Coco is particularly relevant to his childhood, during which he celebrated the Day of the Dead and had valuable memories of his great-grandfather teaching him lessons. Today on Theresa’s Reviews, I am sharing an exclusive interview with him about his role in Coco that, while brief, is a key moment in the movie.
Coco Edward James Olmos (voice of “Chicharrón”) Interview
One of the most emotional scenes in Coco is when the Chicharrón fades to his final death. Leading up to this moment, Hector comes to borrow his guitar for Miguel. Hector plays him one last song before he is forgotten forever. The song, “Everyone Knows Juanita,” adds some comic relief to the moment, but it really is quite a serious scene. Hector explains, “Memories must be passed down by those who knew us in life. It happens to everyone eventually.” When Chicharrón fades away forever, the audience sees how important it is to pass down stories about ancestors.
Being Forgotten Forever
One topic that Coco left me thinking about was the idea of being forgotten forever. Staying alive in the memories of those we love matters. How can we do so?
In Coco, Hector and Miguel go to a desolate place in the Land of the Dead. Everyone who stays there cannot return to the Land of the Living on the Day of the Dead. They do not have photos on anyone’s altars. When there is no memory that they existed at all, these souls disappear forever.
When asked how not to be forgotten forever, Edward J. Olmos says, “Just be happy around those that you love because that’s what you’d like to be remembered for.”
He continues, “I’d like to remember the fact that I always try to be happy and that I always get up because it’s a choice. I could have woken up this morning and said, Oh, God almighty, I have to do so much of this stuff. I have to do this, Oh, God, what a day. Instead, I woke up, and I said, Well, I have to do all this stuff, but guess what? I woke up.”
What That Moment of Being Forgotten in Coco Means
After speaking with several people about what the Day of the Dead signifies in Mexican culture, it seems as though this is not necessarily a religious day, even though most of Mexico is Catholic.
The Day of the Dead has its origins in Aztec traditions, but it happens to fall on the same days as All Saints Day and All Souls Day in the Catholic faith. As a non-religious belief, the Day of the Dead is about re-connecting with and giving offerings to ancestors. It is a reminder that what we do here and now matters.
Regarding the idea of being forgotten, Edward James Olmos says, “It’s not about religion. Far from it. It’s not about belief in heaven and earth and all that. It’s all about just the understanding of what we conjure when we’re here. Not one of you can be here without thinking about who got you here and if you don’t do it daily, you’re missing the day and that’s really the key to, you know, just being thankful.”
Response For People Who Have Mixed Reactions To Coco
People have had mixed reactions about Disney Pixar making a movie about skeletons and death. With a 96% movie review rating on Rotten Tomatoes and $72.9 million final box office revenue for the long Thanksgiving weekend, it seems to be a new favorite Pixar movie.
Still, some people think Coco commercializes a sacred day.
In response to this, he says, “I think we have right to be defensive of our culture. The art forms have a tendency to exploit. They romanticize, glamorize, and exploit the material. They try to make money with it. In a way, that’s what it is. This is a business, the entertainment business.”
He continues, “This is probably the most effective and the most important film that’s come out of the Hollywood system at this moment in time especially. No one knew six years when they started to do this that it would come out in this year, this month, and that the situation would be what we’re experiencing right this moment.”
Special Memories of Celebrating The Day Of The Dead
With Coco having a strong focus on the Day of the Dead, the audience can gain an understanding about what happens on this special day in Mexican households.
Edward James Olmos grew up celebrating the Day of the Dead, and he has fond memories of reconnecting with his ancestors through the offrenda (altar). If you don’t celebrate the Day of the Dead, it might sound sad to think so much about death, but he describes it as a happy occasion.
Regarding what Day of the Dead celebrations were like in his home, he says, “It was a party. It was a celebration of life and of living, with conjuring up the understanding of those who got you there. You’re just saying thank you to them. Thanks for bringing me to this space and here we are around your tomb or your grave site. We put flowers and little candles and their picture and their food. I bring my dad his menudo (soup). We just sit there and laugh.”
Memories of His Great-Grandparents
During the interview, it was clear that thinking about the plot of Coco brought up memories Edward James Olmos had of his great-grandparents who spent much of their time raising him.
One story he shared helped show why ancestors matter. In his story, he shows how his great-grandfather taught him that a stop sign means to stop and appreciate the world around you, while most people would have taught that it means to stop traffic.
He said, “One day, I said, “Grandpa, Abuelito, Abuelito, what, what is that? He looked at it. Then he looked down and me. Now we’re here on First and Indiana, which is the heart of East L.A., Boyle Heights. He says, “Whenever you see that, mijo (son), you look for the bird. You look for a plant, you look for a flower, you look for a tree, and you look for grass because, mijo, that’s a stop sign.”
He continued, “That’s how I learned what a stop sign was. Now, my grandfather wouldn’t have said that. My father would not have said that. They would not have understood that moment in time and what it meant to resonate. Now, when I see a stop sign and I’m going down the street at seventy, who do I think about?”
Listening to this story reminded me of the memories I have with my grandparents. I pictured the moment my grandmother held my youngest daughter and the only photo I will ever have of the two of them. Then, I thought about the only photo I have with my grandfather, who I was never old enough to have memories with, and how that photo is still up on my parent’s refrigerator. Those photos are so valuable to me, and although I don’t put them on an offrenda, having a photo is a nice way to keep that memory and those stories alive.
Our ancestors have left stories for us to share, and these stories have made us who we are.
Coco Shows Why We Must Keep The Stories Of Our Ancestors Alive
Interviewing Edward James Olmos
The wisdom that Edward James Olmos shared made his interview incredibly moving. As a Latino actor, he gave great insight into what makes Coco one of the most best movies made this year.
Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Héctor (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.