I missed Coco when it was in theaters and found it last year on Disney+. I was immediately taken by the story, visuals, and themes put to the screen. This was another Pixar masterpiece, a movie that welcomes all creeds and cultures by teaching us about one we have not seen enough of in film.
One of the things I love about the movie so much is the script—the writing is clear, concise, and provides the beautiful visuals that allowed the animators to capitalize on ideas and create a world beyond our imagination. It is a pleasure to read while watching.
It also delivers the magic in words, which I think helps us all create better.
So today, I want to go over some lessons from the Coco script and let you download and read along.
3 Lessons from the Coco Screenplay
As I mentioned above, the Coco script is a wonderful achievement. The original story for the movie was developed by Lee Unkrich, Jason Katz, Matthew Aldrich, and Adrian Molina. The credited screenwriters on the film are Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich.
So, what can this script teach us?
1. The Structure of Coco
I often find animated movies to have some of the most airtight structures around. The reason is that they are meticulously planned frame by frame in order to maximize the animators' time. Coco is no different. We have a solid opening scene where narration takes us across the world.
The inciting incident happens on page 26 when Miguel’s grandmother destroys his beloved guitar. This leads Miguel to run away from home and enter the Land of the Dead—which puts us into the main crux of the movie.
From there, all the beats are hit in neat order.
At the midpoint, Miguel and Hector retrieve Chicharron’s guitar. That's a false win, which plays right into the audiences' expectations. We also learn more about the importance of memory here. When people aren’t remembered, they enter the “Final Death,” drifting out of the Land of the Dead. That's vital to the theme.
We will cover a few other beats later...
2. The Themes of Coco
I think my love for this film comes straight from the film's main theme: memory. This is not about life and death, but about how we celebrate people. I often find movies dealing with this stuff to be cheesy, but Coco makes memory as a concept so tangible. There is no death as long as memory lives.
These themes are not always subtle, but the movie makes them work. Some of the dialogue in Coco might be on the nose, but it really hits what the story is about. Lines like“Never forget how much your family loves you,” and “I am not like the rest of my family. There's something that makes me different,” really nail what the characters are going through.
3. The Coco Screenplay Ending
You have to nail the ending of your screenplay if you want to really impress the reader or the audience when it's eventually made. Coco's ending has thrills, chills, and emotional resonance. Not only do we get an action scene involving Ernesto revealing to the Land of the Dead that he’s a murderer, but we get cat monsters as well.
The movie had two goals for Miguel... we needed to have Miguel understand his family and we needed to have Mama Coco remember Hector. Well, we saw Miguel go on a journey where he finally understands his family and their relationship to music.
But at the very end, his final goal is to talk with Mama Coco and get her to remember Hector.
Closing these loops goes all the way back to the structure established in the first place. It's the perfect hook to make us feel great at the end.
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