Posted on Monday, August 28th, 2017 by Hoai-Tran Bui
Is it possible to “Pixar-ify” an entire cultural tradition and transform it into a family-friendly, merchandise-ready movie? Those are the fears that some might have about Coco, Pixar’s upcoming film centers around Mexico’s beloved Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos. But those fears can be put to rest, as Coco is as respectful in its treatment of Día de los Muertos as it is eager to share the joyous Mexican holiday with the rest of the world.
Coco follows a Mexican boy named Miguel (voiced by relative newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) whose overwhelming passion for music drives him to disobey his family — who, after a traumatizing incident from the past, has banned all music in their household — and attempt to prove himself as a musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). But a series of rash decisions causes him to be stuck in the Land of the Dead on Día de los Muertos. There, he teams up with a ragamuffin skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) on a mission to find de la Cruz, who he believes can help him return to the land of the living.
As fantastical a story as it sounds, Coco actually touches on more universal values than you would think: family, nostalgia, music, and adorable dogs. But amazingly, it tells this tale in a bilingual tongue, with the setting placed firmly in the fictional Mexican town of Santa Cecilia and its afterworld counterpart. The cast is entirely Latino, and Spanish phrases are sprinkled throughout the movie — with nary a subtitle to be seen. But rather than being alienating, these aspects of multiculturalism only serves to make Coco more authentic, serving as a bridge to a culture that hasn’t often been explored in mainstream animated films.
Earlier this month, I visited Pixar to get an early glimpse of the footage of Coco, as well as insight into the process of Coco’s long journey to the big screen from its directors, animators, and artists.