Now Reading: How Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Went From Disrespectful to an Incredibly Beautiful Representation of Mexican Culture


How Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Went From Disrespectful to an Incredibly Beautiful Representation of Mexican Culture

November 14, 20176 min read

Back in 2013, Disney surprisingly decided to trademark the phrase “Día de Los Muertos,” as the company was making a new movie centered around the Mexican holiday. They did this in order to have control over its name in games, clothing, toys, etc.

When the public found out, the backlash quickly began; Latinos all over the world found themselves angry at Disney’s attempt to trademark something so culturally, religiously and historically important to them. A petition at quickly went up along with this backlash and gained over 21.300 signatures.

Mexican-American artist Lalo Alcaraz, the founder of whose work has appeared in The New York Times, was one of the main voices behind the movement to stop Disney’s effort and made a drawing called “Muerto Mouse” after people on social media asked him for an editorial cartoon in response.

Lolo Alcaraz’s ‘Muerto Mouse’ featured on his site

A week later, Disney withdrew the trademark application.

“The trademark intended to protect any potential title of the movie or related activity,” a spokeswoman for Disney said on CNNMexico. “Since then, it has been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore, we are withdrawing our application for trademark registration.”

Two years later, in 2015, Lolo Alcaraz received a call from Pixar and was offered a job as a cultural advisor to work on the movie.

“My first reaction was ‘Wow. Is this for real? Should I do this? It’s pretty risky. Are they going to ask me to just rubber stamp stuff, or are they going to listen to what I have to say, cuz, you know, I have strong opinions,’” Alcaraz told mitú. “My second reaction was, ‘PIXAR WANTS TO TALK TO ME.’ A combination of joy and terror.”

This was an incredibly bold move, because the artist had been a long-time critic of Disney’s work and policies, so he wanted to make sure that he would not be just another name on the list and that his ideas would be taken into consideration. He specifically demanded that there would be no brownface in the movie and an all-Latino cast. Pixar 100% agreed to the request.

“That familiar connection to a Pixar film, that’s deeper than I’ve ever been able to go, and I think create a story that’s unique for the studio, that’s unique for the world,” said Mexican-American co-director Adrián Molina. “Strictly from my personal standpoint, I’m very thankful for it, because it helped me to grow, to reconnect with my roots and to create something that I am very proud of — very proud to share with my family in the United States and Mexico and beyond.”

When both Adrián Molina and Lee Unkrich started making this movie six years ago, the climate all around the world was quite different. Now, Coco comes at a great timing, not only because it might help diminish American people’s prejudices towards Mexico in the Trump era, but also because in September an earthquake hit the country leaving 370 people dead and many more without a home. Therefore, this movie might help unite the people at such a difficult time for them and help them forget about their problems for a few hours.

The film premiered in Mexico on Oct. 27, and the response has been huge. In its opening weekend, the movie made 8.4 million dollars (160.5 million Mexican pesos), which is astonishing taking into account that the average ticket costs 60 pesos (3.1 dollars), while the daily minimum wage is of 80 pesos (4.1 dollars). It has also obtained very positive critical acclaim, with a 95% on Rotten Tomatoes and an 81 out of 100 in Metacritic, although these numbers will most likely change since the movie has yet to premiere to the rest of the world.

Coco tells the story of 12-year-old Miguel who aspires to be a musician despite his family’s ancestral ban on music. He finds himself entering the stunning Land of the Dead and begins a journey to unlock the mystery behind his family’s real story. The movie will be out on Nov. 22 in the United States, and it is sure to be a hit — not only for Latinos but also for lots of other communities who will easily see themselves getting emotional over this story.

It is incredibly important that we highlight the work behind this movie. Very few companies as big as Disney actually take the time to make a movie about a foreign culture and listen to what people from the culture have to say. This is only further proof that when representation is accurate and respect is put at the front, success will be bigger.

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Federico Bongiorno

Federico Bongiorno is a 21-year-old from Argentina who's deeply in love with pop culture, politics and people.