Pixar’s Coco is exciting for many reasons: it is the animation studio giant’s first movie after 19 productions to feature a character from a minority ethnicity (Mexican). The Lee Unkrich movie centred around the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead has taken great pains to stay culturally correct and counter Disney’s penchant for whitewashing.
Directed by Unkrich (Toy Story 3), the film follows 12-year-old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez), whose family has banned music after an ancestor’s musician husband abandoned her. Miguel’s determination to play the guitar and sing lands him in the netherworld, where he meets characters who have connections with his past. The Day of the Dead, which is dedicated to the spirits of deceased family members, provides the colourful backdrop to Miguel’s adventures.
The movie landed in trouble soon after its original title, Dia de los Muerto (Day of the Dead), was announced. To the dismay of the Mexican-American community, the Walt Disney Company, which owns Pixar, filed an application to the US Patent and Trademark Office to trademark the phrase for merchandise and marketing. The announcement evoked a severe backlash, with one Twitter user even going on to tweet that culture was not for sale.
Disney quickly backtracked from its misguided attempt at cultural appropriation, renamed the film Coco, and recruited experts from the Latino community in Los Angeles on the project. The unfinished film was also shown to these experts to ensure that the details were correct. “We don’t normally open up the doors to let people in to see our early screenings,” Darla K Anderson, one of the film’s producers told The New York Times in an interview. “But we really wanted their voice and their notes and to make sure we got all the details correct.”
The research included visits to the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Guanajuato between 2011 and 2013 to study their art, folklore and the music. The Rivera clan is based on real-life characters from the country. The film stars Jaime Camil and Sofía Espinosa as Miguel’s parents, Gael Garcia Bernal as Hector Rivera, who teams up with Miguel in the Land of the Dead, and Benjamin Bratt as the legendary singer Ernesto de la Cruz.
Music plays a big role in Coco. Recorded in Mexico City with the help of over 50 local musicians, the soundtrack includes various styles, including mariachi and jarocho. The music has been composed by Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible- Ghost Protocol), who won the Best Original Score Oscar for Up in 2010.
Coco, which will be released on November 24 in India, released to thumping box-office numbers in Mexico on October 27. Raking in $43.1 million through its first 19 days after release, Coco became the country’s top-grosser, reported Variety.