During the middle of last week, Disney finally released their U.S. trailer for their own theatrical jaunt into the Day of the Dead mythos, Coco. I, for my part, completely forgot this movie was even going to be a thing, and still kind of wish that it wasn’t. The bad blood Disney created during the film’s production still lingers, and with a seemingly superior film, The Book of Life, having already been released, many still question why we even need Disney’s spin on Mexican culture. Does Coco seem worth giving the time of day? For the time being, I’m going to give it a somewhat wary “yes”.
Coco follows the story of Miguel, a young boy who adores music even though music has been banned from his family by rule of his abuelita after his great-great grandfather, a famous and well-loved musician, abandoned the family. Wanting nothing more than for his family to embrace music once again, Miguel breaks into his great-great grandfather’s mausoleum. Within it lies the skull guitar that his great-great grandfather was buried with, and Miguel hopes to take part in a talent competition with this newly borrowed treasure. However, once he strums the guitar, Miguel becomes like a ghost to the living and can now see the spirits of the dead. In an attempt to solve his current intangibility issues and maybe even his family’s past drama, he travels with his dog to the city of the dead for answers.
If you don’t remember Coco, don’t worry, I tried to forget it too. Through some shitty missteps, Disney managed to brand the project as “the film that tried to trademark Día de los Muertos”, and as expected, this didn’t endear anyone to the film. At all. And with claims that the film was basically going to be a retread of everything The Book of Life did (but with white guys at the helm instead of actual Mexican people), no one was really looking forward to it. Upon reading the synopsis, though, I have to say that it doesn’t really sound like the same movie at all and the art in the trailer is distinct enough to set it apart—a good thing considering Disney’s track record with being accused of stealing ideas. It’s true that elements of the film will be the same, but that’s to be expected since both films explore Día de los Muertos; some of the symbolism is going to stay the same, since that’s basically the point of symbolism. More than one film can focus on a specific holiday, of course, but then, I don’t believe that was ever really the true issue at hand.
Arguably the main concern with Coco wasn’t the design elements, but that white people were co-opting a very Latinx experience in order to make money. After backlash from nearly everyone, but especially from the Mexican-American community, Coco’s director Lee Unkrich took this deserved criticism to heart. As Vanity Fair states:
Pixar chose to bring some of its harshest critics into the fold, including [Chicano artist, Lalo] Alcaraz. He joined playwright Octavio Solís and former C.E.O. of the Mexican Heritage Corp. Marcela Davison Aviles to form a tight-knit cultural consultant group for the film. Coco writer Adrian Molina, who was promoted to co-director in 2016, says that working alongside Solís, Aviles, and Alcaraz (among others) was “crucial” to getting Coco right. “It opened up a great conversation—to be able to meet with people—because we understood there was such a responsibility. The great thing about it is that when we talk with our consultants—or even in my experience coming from a Mexican background—it creates a conversation of what the celebration means to them,” he says.
On top of adding so many Latinx voices to the behind-the-scenes aspect, I was pleased to see that all of the currently announced voice talent comes from the culture the film is about.
I think it’s more than fair that people are questioning a corporation like Disney’s commitment to being genuine and true to a different culture. It’s fair for people to be angry that a company that is predominantly white will always get more worldwide publicity than Mexican animation studios. However, I do think it’s also important to support people and groups who try to better themselves. No one, not even Disney, is arguing whether they fucked up. They’ll probably fuck up in the future too, but from the changes made in Coco and the strong attempts made in Moana, a certain part of Disney really seems dedicated to bringing us both more diverse media and hiring diverse people onto their projects. We should always strive to bring the voices of marginalized people and cultures to the forefront, and sometimes it’s, surprisingly, outlets like Disney who do it. And when people from the culture the film is about are excited for the film, I think that warrants giving it a bit of a chance.
Coco comes out in U.S. theaters on November 22nd: a long ways away, but a good amount of time to potentially fix any other white bullshit that may have hung on from its earlier days.