Protest artist joins ‘Day of the Dead’ movie

Director Lee Unkrich, right, and producer Darla K. Anderson
Director Lee Unkrich, right, and producer Darla K. Anderson

Movie director Lee Unkrich, who is known for Toy Story 3, has been working on a Dia de los Muertos-themed film since 2012, but Friday at D23, Pixar finally announced the film’s title and revealed some brief details.

The movie is titled “Coco,” and the film “is the celebration of a lifetime, where the discovery of a generations-old mystery leads to a most extraordinary and surprising family reunion.”

Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson (also from Toy Story 3) also released the following statements about the movie:

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“As artists and filmmakers, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the striking visuals of Dia de los Muertos. But it was the celebration’s core themes of family, remembrance and connection across generations that resonated within and truly inspired us. Dia de los Muertos is as singular as the Mexican culture, while at the same time completely universal in its message.”

“In our story, the celebration of Dia de los Muertos serves as the perfect backdrop for our main character to ask where he comes from, what his place is within his family, and how families stay woven together across time through the simple act of remembrance.”

Additionally, Unkrich tweeted out a teaser poster for the film, which reveals that it will be released “Fall 2017.”

An artist who protested Disney's "Day of the Dead" film is now on its staff.
An artist who protested Disney’s “Day of the Dead” film is now on its staff.

The film made headlines in 2013 when word got out that Disney was seeking to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in preparation for what it thought would be a 2015 release, under the same name. The backlash included the wrath of artist Lalo Alcaraz, who shared a poster of a Godzilla-like Mickey Mouse under the words, “It’s coming to trademark your cultura.”

But here’s the twist: Today, Alcaraz tweeted out an announcement that he has been hired as part of the Pixar team.

William Nericcio, a scholar specializing in the representation of Latinos in American pop culture, said, “[Hollywood’s] attitude towards culture is like a pelt hunter from the 19th century. They need the skin that people recognize and value in order to sell a project that will yield predictable profits.”

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Nericcio acknowledges that Pixar and Disney face an uphill battle in producing their Day of the Dead feature, which is to be directed by Toy Story 3 helmer Lee Unkrich: “I think it’s wonderful that Pixar is working on a Mexico, cultural-based project. But it’s a public relations nightmare. They’re not really equipped to talk about other cultures in a way that shows even the slightest sensitivity.”

Meanwhile, another animated film beat Pixar to the punch. Fox released The Book of Life in 2014. Voiced by Diego Luna and Channing Tatum, the movie received critical praise as well as a Golden Globe nomination for Best Animated Feature Film.

Its director, Mexican director Jorge Gutierrez, said on the record that he took a dim view of those who go on “research trips” to learn other country’s cultures:

“Personally I’ve always found it a little ridiculous that animation artists can go on a research trip and think they understand the culture. I never, never bought that. I think you get the tourist version of a culture if you do that. So I said to the crew, ‘No research trips to Mexico. I am Mexico! You guys have any questions, you come to me.’”

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