Pixar’s latest film Coco is not so different from other Pixar films, taking a cue from Monsters, Inc. when creating the Land of the Dead. Coco will take the audience to a journey through the Land of the Dead and the Mexican tradition of Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), when a young boy named Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead while pursuing his dream of becoming a musician.
Turns out that the afterlife is not that different from the corporeal realm we live in – it just happens to have skeletons walking around the city. While Coco’s story and influence is quite different from previous Pixar films, the creators took some lessons from Monsters, Inc.’s city Monstropolis to build the colorful Land of the Dead.
In an interview with EW, Coco co-director Lee Unkrich explained that Monstropolis and the Land of the Dead are both mirrors of the communities and cities we know and live in, and explained the reasoning behind this approach:
“You have to think about how this all works. We like to find a logic to everything we do and not just make up things to make up things. I find, personally, that the more fantastical people get with world-building and the less relatable it is, you remain kind of emotionally distanced from it. Actually, I would liken the Land of the Dead a bit to what we did in Monsters Inc, where we created Monstropolis, this familiar but fantastical world of monsters, where there was a lot that’s unique and delightful about it, but it’s also rooted in a world that we now. We did the same thing here in our vision of the afterworld.”
This also helps keep the essence of humanity in those that reside in Coco‘s Land of the Dead: they are dead but they keep their human side, which means – as explained by Unkrich – that “whatever your job was in life, that’s still your job in the afterlife, for better or worse.” However, as many similarities as there are between the Land of the Dead and Monstropolis, there’s one detail that separates them according to Unkrich (aside from the monsters and skeletons, that is):
“In terms of Starbucks and that kind of thing, I made a decision early on that I didn’t want to lean into pop culture references on this film. It’s an easy gag to do stuff like that, and we try to make films that are timeless. I want people to be watching these films 75 years from now, and who knows what will be out in the world then? We tried to not go for that easy pop culture reference laugh.”
Coco’s aesthetic and design is heavily influenced by Victorian-era architecture and the work of iconic Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada, most famous for his “La Calavera Catrina” illustration. Posada’s artwork is one of the biggest representatives of Mexican culture, especially the aesthetic related to Día de Muertos. Given this cultural and visual approach, it would have been odd to add pop culture references that don’t exactly belong.
In addition to all these references to Mexican culture and its traditions, the Coco voice cast is mostly composed of latino actors, with a latino co-director/writer (Adrian Molina) onboard too. Judging by the Coco trailer footage and all the research done by the film’s creative team (as part of their efforts to be as loyal as possible to the aesthetic of this tradition), Pixar may well have a big hit on their hands, with this new adventure.
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