Is Jenny Benson absolutely coco about Pixar's latest effort? Well, sort of...
It’s been over two weeks since the release of the trailer for Pixar’s Coco. A film about Mexican culture, specifically Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead), this is Pixar’s first original film since The Good Dinosaur in 2015, yet just like many others on social media, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe this trailer is not as original as I first thought…
Whilst the trailer for Coco looks gorgeous (as it should with a Pixar sized budget behind it), it also looks achingly similar to the 2014 Día de los Muertos themed film The Book of Life (with a hint of Kubo and The Two Strings thrown in).
In Coco, our young protagonist Miguel is first seen idolising his musical hero Ernesto de la Cruz in a shrine made for him. Miguel practices his music based on old videos of his icon, and in an adventure to find out more about his own family and the ban on music that has haunted it for years, and how this links to the enigmatic de la Cruz, Miguel is accidentally, magically transported into the land of the dead. There he meets the friendly trickster Hector, and together they navigate the land of the dead to uncover some family secrets.
Whilst it is easy to see the disquieting similarity between Miguel’s rejection of his family’s tradition as shoemakers, in favour of music, in Coco, and Manolo’s rejection of his family’s tradition as bullfighters, in favour of music, in The Book of Life, it would be cruel and simplistic to dub these films as inextricable from one another, or to suggest that they are on some level the same as each other. If anything, the rise of media attention surrounding Coco and the accompanying spur of interest in Día de los Muertos is giving The Book of Life some free press (just as Gutierrez, The Book of Life’s director, himself tweeted here). The thematic similarity in these two films, and the beauty of both animation styles, should hopefully renew interest in 20th Century Fox’s incredible film, giving it the views it deserves, and also the depiction of Mexican culture should be sensitive enough that young Mexican children can see more characters who they can relate to in the global media, and children from other backgrounds can learn more about, and be accepting of, cultures other than their own.
Despite this, we should still be a wary audience. Until Disney, the company producing Coco, came under fire for attempting to trademark Día de los Muertos, in a tactless move to protect the film and its future merchandising, the film had minimal publicised impact from any Mexican filmmakers, experts, or cast. After the rising anger surrounding the lack of foresight of the trademarking decision, this attempt has been revoked, and the cast has now been revealed to be entirely Hispanic, not to mention there is now a consulting panel of Mexican artists (some of whom were the films greatest critics to begin with), and Gutierrez himself has publicly praised some members of the team who are working on this film.
All I can hope is that Lee Unkrich (the director of Coco) has done his research for this film, so that Coco can find its original voice whilst being the “love letter to Mexico” Unkrich hopes it will be, and also providing the beautiful and nostalgic sensitivity that Pixar is known for. And it really does look like it could go this way. The trailer is undeniably gorgeous. Whilst the orange leaves that crinkle and glow after Miguel has played his first chord on de la Cruz’ guitar do have their echo in Kubo’s ship of orange leaves, and the first touch of the magical instrument of Coco disturbs the boundaries between the land of the living and the land of the dead just as it did for Kubo, Coco’s animation is also sumptuous. Miguel’s shrine to Ernesto de la Cruz is full to the brim with gorgeous details; the hand painted signs, the monogrammed merchandise, and even the grey flicker of the screen and the crackle of the VHS tape.
I’m going to see this film. Undoubtedly. I’m a sucker for Pixar in all its forms (even with claims that the studio is selling out with its incessant sequels). Of course, The Book of Life won’t be far from my mind when I got to see Coco, but it would be unfair to boycott a film on its trailer alone, especially when its latter mistakes have now been consciously rectified by those involved. I think it is more than fair to give Coco a chance, even if it is a justifiably hesitant one.
With such a gorgeous swelling score for the trailer, and the adorable freckled protagonist, this is a film I am incredibly excited to go and see. The delicacy and consistency of every aspect of the animation, and the attention to detail, does just attest to the power of Pixar and Disney; they are still leaders of animation, just as they were with Toy Story all those years ago.