Yesterday, Pixar released two new clips of its upcoming animated film Coco, a musical inspired by Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead celebrations. One is a teaser, and another is a behind-the-scenes look at the film.
In recent years, Disney has ramped up its diversity efforts, producing films like Moana, derived from Polynesian culture, and Queen of Katwe, the based-on-real-life story of a Ugandan chess champ. But Pixar, acquired by Disney in 2006, hasn’t followed the same trends: it’s focused on stories set in Scotland (Brave), France (Ratatouille), America (Inside Out), and the fantasy worlds of The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory 2, and Cars 3. “With Coco, we got to visit the beautiful country of Mexico,” says story writer Adrian Molina, known for his work on Ratatouille and Monsters University. Coco features an all-Latinx voice cast. It’s produced by Pixar, and will be released by Walt Disney Studios on November 22nd, 2017.
In the behind-the-scenes featurette released yesterday, the Pixar crew reveals that they visited Mexico for research, watching mariachi bands, shoemakers, and street life to help shape Coco and give it cultural authenticity. Through the trips, the filmmakers observed what a large part music plays in Day of Dead celebrations, and in Mexican culture in general. They adapted the story to make it more about music and not just family, according to director Lee Unkrich. The musical score for Coco was recorded by 50 musicians in Mexico City, using local instruments. It features work from Latina songwriter Germaine Franco and Mexican DJ Camilo Lara.
Another clip Pixar released yesterday shows the grandmother of protagonist Miguel scolding a mariachi band member away from her grandson. It’s shown that Miguel loves music passionately, but his abuelita thinks musicians are all troublemakers. We know from the trailers and released plot details that his abuelita has banned music for all generations of the family, because she believes it has cursed them. Miguel later ventures into the Land of the Dead and meets his departed family members on a journey to bring music back.
In bringing a culturally diverse story to international audiences, it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Pixar. Disney initially received flak for attempting to trademark “Day of the Dead,” or “Día de los Muertos,” as the name of the film. People also complained that the concept behind Coco seemed like a rip-off of the 2014 animated feature The Book of Life, directed by Jorge Gutiérrez (¡Mucha Lucha!, El Tigre). As members of the Latinx community called for a boycott of Coco, Disney executives relented and hired more Latinx talent to keep the film culturally responsible.
Coco premieres at Mexico’s Morelia International Film Festival on October 20th ahead of its November theatrical run. Day of the Dead celebrations begin on Halloween.