Pixar announced today that it will move forward with its Day of the Dead film project, now called Coco.

Coco will be directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3). Unkrich’s project will answer the question, What if a Mexican boy named Miguel could meet his long-dead Mexican family members? It was described by Pixar chief creative officer John Lasseter at the D23 Expo as “breathtaking, beautiful, and fun.”

If Unkrich, a white Jewish gentleman from Cleveland, Ohio, sounds like an odd choice for directing a film rooted in a centuries-old Mexican tradition, fear not. Unkrich explained today that he has traveled several times to Mexico to study real Mexicans doing real Mexican types of things. Plus, he’s surely seen the illustrations of Posada, so he’s at least as qualified as any other white person who wants to appropriate Mexican culture for the purpose of boosting an American corporation’s bottomline.

Producer Darla Anderson and director Lee Unkrich announce "Coco" at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. (Click to enlarge.)
Producer Darla Anderson and director Lee Unkrich announce “Coco” at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. (Click to enlarge.)

In an interview with Cartoon Brew last year, actual Mexican director Jorge Gutierrez, who directed Fox/Reel FX’s Day of the Dead-themed feature The Book of Life, shared his thoughts about gringos 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.’

A few years ago, in preparation for this Pixar film, the Disney Company unsuccessfully attempted to trademark the entire Día de Muertos holiday, which caused widespread outrage in the Latino community. William Nericcio, a scholar specializing in the representation of Latinos in American pop culture, told Cartoon Brew at the time that Pixar’s film would be “a public relations nightmare” because Disney and Pixar are “not really equipped to talk about other cultures in a way that shows even the slightest sensitivity.”

We’ll find out how well equipped to talk about the culture and customs of our southern neighbors when they release Coco in fall 2017.