Pixar tackles another culture, this time with more research.
By Sebastian Mino-Bucheli, Staff Writer
Underneath the beautiful visuals, “Coco” tackles hard themes such as death and the afterlife with the help of an exhausted Pixar plot.
The difference with the Pixar formula this time around, is that it revolves around family members who both are alive and dead. It encourages the audience to think about their lineage of ancestors.
“I’ve long been interested in Día de Los Muertos,” said Lee Unkrich, Director of “Toy Story 3” and “Coco,” “I immediately felt this weight on my shoulders of the responsibility to get this story right and to be culturally accurate and respectful.”
The story begins with Miguel Rivera, an aspiring 12-year-old musician voiced by Anthony Gonzalez. Rivera talks about his dreams of becoming an established musician like his idol Ernesto de la Cruz, but there is an ancestral ban on music within his family. Through a mysterious chain of events, Miguel and his dog accidentally enter the Land of the Dead while looking for the hidden secrets of the Rivera family, where they come across a trickster voiced by Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.
From start to finish, you can witness the combined effort of Pixar in researching Mexican culture to remain culturally and historically accurate. The studio’s commitment likely explains the 11-day earnings of $80.5 million from a mere $1.9 million opening Friday, according to Forbes.
The team of writers did an excellent job at explaining aspects of Dia de Los Muertos to non-Mexican audience members, such as the importance of the having photos of the deceased loved ones, objects, and food placed in an altar. This tradition is meant to provide a medium for ancestors to cross into the land of the living for a visit.
There is a sense of joy knowing that Pixar paid tribute to the Mexican tradition of Dia de Los Muertos. Any member of the audience can learn about the tradition at a glance. Cultural consultants were hired, and there were countless advance screenings to ensure the film did not portray stereotypical forms. Writer and Mexican-American Adrian Molina’s contribution to the movie got him promoted to Co-Director halfway through production. The writers took a similar approach for “Moana,” but only scratched the surface. For “Coco,” the writers made sure to visit Mexico to draw inspiration.
“Like the characters in the movie, my grandmother was wheelchair-bound, and both my grandparents spoke Spanish but not very much English,” said Molina. “ I love music, and the opportunity to create these characters that I knew the world would fall in love with was very exciting.”
As of Dec. 1, “Coco” is at the top of the Box Office, which goes to show that Pixar has learned from their mistakes and gives more evidence to the notion that if people-of-color stories are told correctly, an audience will come.