Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”
Budget: $175 million
Box office: $807.1 million
Plot: In Santa Cecilia, Mexico, 12-year-old Miguel dreams of being a musician, even though his family strictly forbids it. His great-great-grandmother Imelda was married to a man who left her and their 3-year-old daughter Coco to pursue a career in music, and when he never returned, Imelda banished music from her family’s life and started a shoemaking business.
Miguel now lives with the elderly Coco and their family, who are all shoemakers. He idolizes Ernesto de la Cruz, a famous musician, and secretly teaches himself to play guitar from Ernesto’s old movies.
On the Day of the Dead, Miguel accidentally damages the picture frame holding a photo of Coco with her parents on the family ofrenda and discovers a hidden section of the photograph showing his great-great-grandfather (whose face had been torn out) holding Ernesto’s famous guitar. Concluding that Ernesto is his great-great-grandfather, Miguel leaves to enter a talent show for Día de Los Muertos despite his family’s objections. He breaks into Ernesto’s mausoleum and takes his guitar to use in the show, but once he strums it, he becomes invisible to everyone in the village plaza. However, he can interact with his skeletal dead relatives who are visiting from the Land of the Dead for the holiday.
Taking him back with them, they learn that Imelda cannot visit because Miguel removed her photo from the ofrenda. Miguel discovers that he is cursed for stealing from the dead, and must return to the Land of the Living before sunrise or he will become one of the dead; to do so, he must receive a blessing from a member of his family. Imelda offers Miguel a blessing, but on the condition that he abandon his musical pursuits. Miguel refuses and attempts to seek Ernesto’s blessing instead.
Miguel meets Héctor, who claims to know Ernesto and offers to help Miguel reach him in return for Miguel taking his photo back with him, so that he might visit his daughter before she forgets him and he disappears completely. He helps Miguel enter a talent contest to win entry to Ernesto’s mansion, but Miguel’s family tracks him down, forcing him to flee. Miguel sneaks into the mansion, where Ernesto welcomes him as his descendant, but Héctor confronts them, again imploring Miguel to take his photo to the Land of the Living. Ernesto and Héctor renew an argument from their partnership in life, and Miguel realizes that when Héctor decided to leave the duo to return to his family, Ernesto killed him, then stole his guitar and songs, passing them off as his own to become famous. To protect his legacy, Ernesto seizes the photo, and has Miguel and Héctor thrown into a cenote pit. There, Miguel realizes that Héctor is his real great-great-grandfather, and that Coco is Héctor’s daughter.
Imelda and the family find and rescue the duo, and Miguel reveals the truth about Héctor’s death. Imelda and Héctor gradually reconcile, and the family infiltrates Ernesto’s sunrise concert to retrieve Héctor’s photo. Ernesto’s crimes are exposed to the audience, who jeer him as he is thrown out of the stadium and crushed by a giant bell, repeating the circumstances of his death, but the photo is lost.
As the sun rises, Coco’s life and memory are fading; Imelda and Héctor bless Miguel unconditionally so he can return to the Land of the Living. Miguel plays “Remember Me”, and Coco brightens and sings along with Miguel, then gives him the torn-off piece of the family photo, which shows Héctor’s face, and tells her family stories about her father, thus keeping his memory alive. Miguel’s family reconciles with him and accepts music again.
One year later, Miguel proudly presents the family ofrenda to his new baby sister, while Coco’s letters from Héctor prove that Ernesto stole his songs, destroying Ernesto’s legacy and causing Héctor to be rightfully honored in his place; Coco has since died, and her picture joins those of her family. In the Land of the Dead, Héctor and Imelda rekindle their romance and join Coco for a visit to the living, where Miguel sings and plays for his relatives, both living and dead.
Background: Lee Unkrich first pitched an idea for the film in 2010, when Toy Story 3, which he also directed, was released. The Pixar team made several trips to Mexico to help define the characters and story of Coco. Coco also took inspiration from Hayao Miyazaki’s anime films Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle as well as the action film John Wick.
In 2013, Disney made a request to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos” for merchandising applications. This was met with criticism from the Mexican American community. More than 21,000 people signed a petition on Change.org stating that the trademark was “cultural appropriation and exploitation at its worst”. A week later, Disney canceled the attempt, with the official statement saying that the “trademark filing was intended to protect any title for our film and related activities. It has since been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore we are withdrawing our trademark filing.”
Benjamin Bratt found his character similar to his father in physical appearance, “swagger and confidence”, and worked in the film as a tribute to him.
Animation: Pixar wanted contrast between the Land of the Living and the Land of the Dead. Santa Cecilia is based on real Mexican villages, used ages building materials and made small so Miguel could feel confined. For Miguel’s guitar playing, animators videotaped musicians playing each song or melody and strapped GoPros on their guitars as a reference.
The team found it difficult working with skeletal creatures, as they lacked any muscular system, and as such had to be animated differently from their human counterparts. They had to find a way to give the skeletons personalities without traditional facial fearures.
Music and Songs: The film’s score was composed by Michael Giacchino. Germaine Franco, Adrian Molina, Robert Lopez, and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote the songs.
- “Remember Me”
- “Much Needed Advice”
- “Everyone Knows Juanita”
- “Un Poco Loco”
- “Jálale (Instrumental)”
- “The World Es Mi Familia”
- “Remember Me (Lullaby)”
- “La Llorona”
- “Remember Me (Reunion)”
- “Proud Corazón”
- “Remember Me (Dúo)”
Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel. Gonzalez first auditioned for the role of Miguel when he was nine, and was finalized in the role two years later. He has also appeared in the TV series The Bridge and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders. Gael García Bernal as Héctor. He is best known for his performances in the films Bad Education, The Motorcycle Diaries, Amores perros, Y Tu Mamá También, Babel, and for his role as Rodrigo de Souza in the Amazon Studios’ web television series Mozart in the Jungle. He and Diego Luna founded Canana Films in Mexico City.
Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz. 1 On television, Bratt portrayed NYPD Detective Rey Curtis on the NBC drama series Law & Order , 2 Dr. Jake Reilly on ABC’s Private Practice, Steve Navarro on 24: Live Another Day, and Jahil Rivera on Star. In film, Bratt has appeared in the films Demolition Man, Blood In Blood Out, Traffic, Piñero, Miss Congeniality, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and its sequel, La Mission, The Lesser Blessed, Despicable Me, Doctor Strange, The Infiltrator, and Ride Along 2. Alanna Ubach as Mamá Imelda. She appeared in Legally Blonde as Serena McGuire and Meet the Fockers as Isabel Villalobos. She has provided voices for several characters in a number of animated television shows and movies, such as Liz Allan on The Spectacular Spider-Man, the title character on El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, Lola Boa on Brandy & Mr. Whiskers, Strudel on Pound Puppies and four characters in the Oscar-winning animated film Rango.
Renée Victor as Abuelita. Best known for her role as Lupita on Weeds. Ana Ofelia Murguía as Mamá Coco. Her well known roles were in The Queen of the Night as Doña Victoria and as Doña Rosa in Nobody Will Speak of Us When We’re Dead.
Edward James Olmos as Chicharrón. He is best known for his roles as Lieutenant Martin “Marty” Castillo in Miami Vice, 3 William Adama in the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, teacher Jaime Escalante in Stand and Deliver, 4 and Detective Gaff in Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049. In 2018, he played the father of a gang member in the FX series, Mayans MC. Alfonso Arau as Papá Julio. He directed the films Zapata: The Dream of a Hero, Like Water for Chocolate, A Walk in the Clouds, and the Hallmark Hall of Fame production A Painted House, adapted from the John Grisham novel of the same name. Among the many roles in his career, Arau has played Captain Herrera in The Wild Bunch, El Guapo in Three Amigos, Manuel in Used Cars, and Juan in Romancing the Stone.
Selene Luna as Tía Rosita. She is known for her roles on comedian Margaret Cho’s reality TV series The Cho Show and in such films as My Bloody Valentine 3D. Dyana Ortellí as Tía Victoria. Among many film and television roles, she is known for her work on Three Amigos and Get the Gringo.
Herbert Sigüenza as Tíos Oscar and Felipe. He is best known for co-founding the theater performance group Culture Clash. He served as a cultural consultant on the film. Jaime Camil as Papá. He is best known for his roles as Fernando Mendiola in La fea más bella and Rogelio de la Vega in Jane the Virgin.
Sofía Espinosa as Mamá. She received recognition for her role of Mati in the Mexican film La Niña en la Piedra (Nadie Te Ve), for which she was nominated for an Ariel Award for Best Actress. She subsequently starred in the TV series Capadocia and Bienvenida Realidad. Espinosa is also featured in several other films including Sea of Dreams, La Vida Inmune, El Brassier de Emma, The Kid: Chamaco, I Miss You, Vete Más Lejos, Alicia, and Asteroide. She also co-produced, co-wrote and starred in Los Bañistas. For her lead performance in the biopic Gloria, based on the life of Mexican singer-songwriter Gloria Trevi, she received the Diosa de Plata and the Ariel Award for Best Actress. Espinosa also had a voice role in the animated film Kubo and the Two Strings. Luis Valdez as Tío Berto and Don Hidalgo. Regarded as the father of Chicano theater in the United States, Valdez is best known for his play Zoot Suit, his movie La Bamba, and his creation of El Teatro Campesino.
Lombardo Boyar as Plaza Mariachi and Gustavo. Known as a stand-up comedian, he had a reoccurring role as Chey on The Bernie Mac Show. Natalia Cordova-Buckley as Frida Kahlo. She is best known for portraying Elena “Yo-Yo” Rodriguez on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Where in the World is John Ratzenberger? Although John is not Latino, they did not wish to break from tradition. John plays Juan Ortodoncia, where he has one line
Pizza Planet Truck: It can be seen driving past the Rivera Shoe Shop while Elena explains the “No Music” rule to Miguel.
A113: The door to the office in The Land of the Dead
- Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com gave the film four out of four, writing that “There’s a touch of Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki in the film’s matter-of-fact depiction of the dead interacting with the living, as well as its portrayal of certain creatures” such as Dante and Pepita.
- Peter Travers of Rolling Stone rated the film 3.5 out of four, calling it a “loving tribute to Mexican culture”, while praising the animation, vocal performances (particularly of Gonzalez, García Bernal, and Bratt), and its emotional and thematic tone and depth.
- The Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips called the film “vividly good, beautifully animated”, praising Giacchino’s musical score and the songs, as well drawing a comparison to the emotional tone of Inside Out.
- A. O. Scott of The New York Times praised the film as “a time-tested tune with captivating originality and flair, and with roving, playful pop-culture erudition”, and called the film’s cultural vibe “inclusive” and “a 21st-century Disney hallmark”. *Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times found the film to be “full of life” and deemed it “a bouncy and heart-tugging adventure”, while lauding the vocal performances as “fantastic” and “first-rate”
- At the 75th Golden Globe Awards, it won Best Animated Feature Film while it was nominated for Best Original Song for the song, “Remember Me”.
- It led the 45th Annie Awards with most nominations, garnering thirteen, among them Best Animated Feature, Outstanding Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production, Outstanding Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature Production, and Outstanding Achievement for Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production for Gonzalez.
- At the 90th Academy Awards, it won the Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. It was chosen by the National Board of Review as the Best Animated Film of 2017.
My take: So I may have cried a bit at this one. 5 Belle has yet to see this as she said “I don’t think I can handle this.” Visually, this film is jaw-dropping, stunning. The amount of detail boggles the mind
Next Week: Our favorite superhero family returns!