The Oscar-nominated composition from Pixar’s latest film more than deserves the acclaim it’s getting.
Spoilers for ‘Coco’ below.
As of now, Coco’s “Remember Me” by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez is a frontrunner in the Best Original Song Category. Going up against great pieces such as Mary J. Blige’s “Mighty River” and Sufjan Stevens’s “Mystery of Love,” this year’s nominees seem a little stronger than usual. However, while 2018 may be packed with wonderful choices, none really compare to the way “Remember Me” so powerfully integrates itself into the story of Coco, musically and thematically.
If you’ve seen Coco, you know the major role the song plays in the film’s narrative. What was introduced to us as a happy, flirtatious song by the famous Ernesto de la Cruz turns out to have initially been a sweet and sad lullaby sung by Hector to young Coco, revealed through a plot twist that genuinely surprised me. But the fact that it was able to embed itself so deeply into the movie is notable.
Sound and music are some of the most important parts of a film, but often they can be a second thought to audiences. A song can be catchy or emotional, and emphasize some particular theme, usually fitting into the film as smoothly as its setting. And a lot of times, that’s on purpose. The usual goal is for a song to invoke something that matches the tone of a scene or the feelings of certain characters while remaining unnoticed so that viewers are never taken out of the world of the film. Music often enhances a movie, but “Remember Me” is the movie. After all, the song is practically Coco’s story. It’s diegetic to the film, and in weaving it so deeply into the movie’s plot, there are layers upon layers given to the meaning of the lyrics and the story itself.
At its heart, Coco is about making sure to always remember and appreciate your ancestors and family history, while still aspiring to be your own unique individual self at the same time. Dia de Los Muertos is the major holiday that drives the narrative, so without ever having seen Coco, one could guess that the song “Remember Me” is referring to deceased loved ones. And while that’s true, that connection is really only the song’s purpose on a thematic level. The lyrics are multifaceted enough that in the movie, they serve two other purposes; one being a romantic ballad to the many lovers of a famous musician, and the other being a sad lullaby sung by a father to his daughter in the hopes that she does not forget him. By themselves, the lyrics say a lot without revealing too much about who “Remember Me” was meant to be sung to.
Taking a look at the way it was composed also shows its versatility musically. One of the reasons the plot twist near the end, and the reveal that “Remember Me” was actually a lullaby, is so unexpected is because Ernesto de la Cruz’s version sung at the beginning of the film is so upbeat, as is shown in this clip:
Hearing that, one would never think it could be a slow, sad song, as it is here:
A few weeks ago, the co-directors and co-writers of Coco, Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich, were guests on an episode of NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. During the interview, they discussed the creation of “Remember Me” and working with Kristen and Robert Lopez. What particularly stood out was their discussion of the film’s composers rising to the challenge to create a piece that could have the same melody but be sung differently. Unkrich remarked that:
“…Bobby and Kristen wrote this song, and it was just really, really beautiful, and even though the movie, the story, changed quite a bit in the years that we developed it, one of the few things that stayed very constant was that song. It always was in the bedrock of the movie, and it never changed from that first song that they wrote.”
From the start, Molina and Unkrich had a vague idea that the song would serve two interpretations and would be a major turning point in Coco. It seems like finding a song with an exact fit for the story would be impossible, but “Remember Me” is perfect and helps to carry the plot in a very creative way.
Since first seeing the film in November, I’ve often listened to “Remember Me” on repeat; sometimes in Spanish, sometimes in English, sometimes in its upbeat version, and sometimes in its lullaby form. It never fails to make me feel something. After leaving the theater with the song still playing in my head, my initial thoughts turned to my own Mexican grandmother, who had recently passed the year before after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for a few years, much like Mama Coco. And in that moment, “Remember Me” was a nice way for me to feel closer to her, if only for a short while. After I listened to the song again in its various renditions, I thought about how special it was that it resonated with so many people on top of taking on different meanings within the film.
Pixar and Disney are usually pretty great at putting together catchy and meaningful compositions for their movies, but this is truly some of their best work yet. It may look and sound simple, but “Remember Me” is a complex and one of a kind composition and it, therefore, deserves Best Original Song on Oscar night.