How Disney Redeemed Itself With ‘Coco’ After the Día de Muertos Trademark Fiasco

'Coco' still courtesy of Disney-Pixar

Pixar’s Coco will debut in United States theaters next week, after a thunderous reception from Mexico ­– where it debuted last month and is already the highest-grossing film ever – and has a 96 percent rating so far from Rotten Tomatoes. Disney’s PR machine has worked overdrive to win positive stories from nearly every conceivable angle, from the composers to co-star Gael García Bernal dedicating it to the niños of Latin American immigrants. And yet for a segment of Latinx folx, it won’t be enough.

For years, they have screamed cultural appropriation at Coco (which some have called the too-obvious “caca”), obsessing over nearly every conceivable angle to paint the movie as little better than NAFTA, yet another move by imperialist Yanquis to profit off México lindo y querido. They were right for a moment: when Disney tried to trademark “Dia de los Muertos” in 2013 only to back down after a furious, righteous backlash a mere 12 hours after activists discovered the attempt.

But ever since then, the armchair Aztecs have been wrong, wrong, WRONG. We should always remain vigilant when big companies attempt to do Latinx anything, especially of the Mexican variety, a culture that the U.S. has demonized and ripped off for more than 150 years. But Coco ain’t it. To wit:

The Whole Día de Muertos Copyright Thing

Yes, Disney royally screwed up on this. But not only did they back down, they also did the best possible thing: hire Lalo Alcaraz as a cultural consultant.

Alcaraz isn’t just some random San Diego Chicano (call him Chicanx at your peril); he’s the legendary cartoonista behind La Cucaracha, which remains one of two Latino-themed daily comic strips in the United States. More importantly, he’s an editorial cartoonist who has comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable for over 25 years. And one of his most prominent targets over the years? Disney.

He drew Mickey Mouse as a racist Anaheim cop and as “Migra Mouse” when it emerged Disney had contributed money to the campaign of former California governor Pete Wilson even after Wilson pushed the anti-immigrant Proposition 187 in 1994. His cartoons have used Disney’s Pocahontas to make jokes about genocidal John Smith, and imagined her as a chola. More importantly, Alcaraz coined Muerto Mouse in the wake of Disney’s trademark fiasco.

And yet Disney hired him to work as a cultural consultant. And Lalo agreed.

The Whole “Lalo Alcaraz is a Vendido” Thing

Many people applauded when Alcaraz announced his role. But he also faced a surprising backlash from self-declared fans and people who had long criticized him for reasons known only to him. I remember one college professor telling Lalo he should GoFundMe his own Día de Muertos film – because, you know, raza can raise thousands of dollars to go up against Pixar. It got so bad that a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona flat-out told Lalo, “You can’t accept a job like this” during a presentation after he and his pals trolled Lalo on Twitter for months.

Of course Lalo can. And he did. He told a newspaper last year, “Instead of suing me, I got Pixar to give me money to help them and do this project right. I was let down because I was hoping people would give me a little bit of credit for the stuff I’ve done; to give me the benefit of the doubt.”

We should.

Coco is Just a Rip-Off of The Book of Life

The yaktivists are such that some are even using 2014’s The Book of Life – you know, a movie distributed by Mexican-hating FOX to slam Coco. Such thinking accuses Disney of ripping off a beloved film directed by Mexican national Jorge Gutierrez.

The problem with that thinking is that Gutierrez is a huge supporter of Coco, attending the film’s Los Angeles premiere and consistently praising it in interviews and on Twitter. And while Gutierrez originally optioned his idea with Dreamworks in 2007, while Coco director Lee Unkrich didn’t pitch his idea to Pixar until 2010, they are different stories with different visual styles and only one thing in common: a Día de Muertos theme. If critics are to be believed, the Star Wars universe is just a rip-off of George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon because the Death Star and the titular luna are basically the same thing.

It’s a Gringo Take on Día de Muertos

This is the most ridiculous assertion. Yes, Pixar and Disney are gringo-run, and Unkrich was the driving force behind Coco. But the film is about as Latinx a Hollywood production since Selena.

Where to start? Coco’s co-director and writer Adrian Molina is a Mexican-American from the California farming town of Yuba City. The cast counts on stars from Bernal to Benjamin Bratt, teenage lead Anthony Gonzalez to Chicano legends Edward James Olmos, Luis Valdez and Herbert Siguenza and even comic geniuses Cheech Marin and Gabriel Iglesias (wish it wasn’t such a sausage party, though; where’s Cristela Alonzo or Salma Hayek?). Mexican Institute of Sound loco Camilo Lara is a music consultant. And these are just the names that people might know; it doesn’t count all the people behind the scenes. Latinos abound in below-the-line roles like Mexican-American songwriter Germaine Franco, Pixar’s Character Art Director Daniel Arriaga, and animator Alonso Martinez.

As my tías would say, after they’d cook us a great meal as kids and we’d still complain it wasn’t enough: ¿que más quieren? What the hell else do critics want? Go buy your tickets, support. And if they’re still mad? Go tell Mexicans in Mexico that their $824 million pesos in ticket sales were spent in vain; they’ll laugh you all the way to the Land of the Dead.

Coco is already playing theaters in Mexico and hits US cinemas on November 22.