Pixar’s Coco has been peppered with controversy since 2013. It all began when Disney tried to trademark Día de los Muertos and Day of the Dead across all platforms. They had hoped to secure those phrases and such themed merchandise as fruit preserves, fruit-based snacks, toys, games, clothing, footwear, backpacks, clocks, and jewelry. Needless to say, this was not taken well within the Latino community, especially once it was discovered that a non-Latino was co-directing.
Since that screw up, critics have been wary about the project and Disney has been trying to make up for their massive faux pas. One of the ways that Disney/Pixar has been trying to save face during the controversy has been to downplay director Lee Unkrich’s involvement and focus instead on co-director Adrian Molina and focusing on the involvement of the Latino cast and crew.
However, this does not mean that Unkrich has kept silent. In fact, he has been voicing his opinions about his involvement as a non-Latino tackling Día de los Muertos. When asked at a recent press conference about how he navigated the tricky terrain that comes with being a non-Latino tackling Día de los Muertos, director Lee Unkrich explained his perspective:
“I just knew from day one the moment when John [Lasseter] said, 'Yes, this is the idea that I want you to pursue,' I went Oh my gosh. What did I just get myself into because I knew I had to get it right. Right? The last thing that I wanted to do was to make a film that felt like it was made by an outsider. I mean, I’m not Latino and I never will be Latino. I just can’t change that. But I comforted myself in knowing that there had been a lot of great films made over time by filmmakers that were not of the cultures that they made films about, so I took the responsibility very serious and I have for many years. It has been great having Adrian [Molina] by my side and all of the cultural consultants that we’ve gathered and the many Latino members of our crew that have been a part of this for a long time and I hope that we’ve got it right.”
The cultural consultants played a relatively substantial part in Disney/Pixar’s plan to fix the mistakes that they made post-trademark controversy. One of the decisions they made after the controversy erupted was when they hired vocal critic and cartoonist, Lalo Alcaraz, to serve as a consultant for the film. Although there was significant skepticism about him being brought on to serve as a watchdog, Unkrich and the team’s reliance on the cultural consultants definitely had a hand in making sure that their film went down the right path:
“Some of it is in world building and building our characters, but a lot of those early years are about developing the story and we [went] down a lot of different paths along the way. We were constantly meeting with cultural advisors and learning more about the celebration, learning more about the traditions. All of that to continue to inform and to guide us to the story that we ultimately told.”
Lee Unkrich’s passion and love for the holiday combined with the meticulous care that the team took to make sure that the film passed muster with their consultants may be what helps the film rise above all of the controversy. On the flip side, it may not be enough. With skepticism and wariness still being directed towards the Disney/Pixar film, it remains to be seen whether or not people will be interested in seeing a film shrouded in this much controversy.
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