The creators of Coco put an unprecedented amount of research into doing the film justice, and now it's paying off. Centered on the Mexican holiday of El Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead, Pixar's newest follows a young boy named Miguel who dreams of being a musician. His family, though loving, is unsupportive of this goal. After a falling out, Miguel finds himself in the Land of the Dead, where he befriends lively skeletons and dives full force into his family history.
Coco isn't just being celebrated for its gorgeous, detailed animations. In addition, Spanish-speaking viewers are lauding the film as ground-breaking, praising Coco as Pixar's first film to represent them in a way few films have.
On Nov. 29, Coco creator Lee Unkrich shared a touching note Pixar received from one such viewer. After explaining her Mexican-American background and love of Pixar films, the writer explained the impact Coco had had on her Spanish-speaking parents:
"Last night, for the first time in my life, I took my mom to the movies," she wrote. "We went to the movies like real Americans do! My mother had tears in her eyes. She hadn’t been to a movie theater in over 30 years. She has always felt a bit out of place in the states. But last night, she forgot she was not from here. She felt at home. And of course the movie made us cry too!"
"Well anyway I apologize for getting so emotional," she concluded. "But I want to say, from the bottom of my heart, and from all Mexican Americans thank you. Thank you for including Us. Thank you for making my mommy fee like she belongs. Thank You."
In Coco, a lively, rich soundtrack of Spanish tunes — overseen by Camilo Lara, creator of musical group Mexican Institute of Sound — complements the voices of the characters, who go back and forth speaking English to Spanish fluidly. Unkrich and his team screened early versions of the film, taking advice from the Latino community on its characters and ritual depictions so it felt authentic to all.
Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina, a Mexican-American, spent the project's first four years on its screenplay and story while the final a year-and-a-half was used to animate. With Molina's help, tweaks were made to ensure it was respectful to the Mexican culture.
The Coco team even made trips to Mexico to spend time with native families and take part in the holiday itself.
"[The families] brought us into their homes and showed us their livelihoods," Unkrich told ScreenDaily. "They fed us and shared their traditions around Dia de Muertos with us. I just felt like being embedded with real families was going to help keep our story very grounded."
Not only has their dedication paid off at the box office (Coco exeeded $80 million in its first week after becoming the fourth-highest Thanksgiving opening in history), but Spanish-speaking fans have made their voices of support heard.
Coco has truly raised the bar on inclusion in Hollywood, proving that respectful, authentic cultural depictions are not only worth it, but necessary.
Let's hope future films follow suit.