Stop pitting ‘PIXAR’S COCO’ against ‘THE BOOK OF LIFE’ because you’re not helping


Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) and his loyal dog Dante—crossing into the Land of the Dead in Disney•Pixar’s COCO. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Courtney Howard // Film Critic

As “they” say, “there are no new stories,” when it comes to storytelling in cinema. Some believe there are only seven basic plots in the realm of storytellers (The meta-plot, voyage and return, overcoming the monster, rags to riches, the quest, comedy, tragedy and rebirth).Most current stories told wind up being an amalgamation of those that came before it. There are different genres and different sub-genres that arise. And there’s definitely room in the marketplace for all stories.

That said, when I woke up this morning, it was surprising to read so much shade tossed at Pixar’s COCO via Twitter. I don’t want to give their hate a pulpit here (you can search on the site for the trolliest, uniformed responses), so I’ll just summarize. A hefty part of the criticism being lobbed was that directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina‘s film was too similar to director Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s THE BOOK OF LIFE, another, very recent animated film which utilizes Día de los Muertos as a plot point.

See for yourselves. Here’s COCO…

…and its official synopsis:

Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.

And here’s THE BOOK OF LIFE…

…and its official synopsis:

THE BOOK OF LIFE, a vibrant fantasy-adventure, tells the legend of Manolo (Diego Luna), a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds in order to rescue his one true love and defend his village.

Now, on a very, very basic, incredibly superficial level (maybe a color-filled aesthetic one, as well) the comparison isn’t unreasonable. It’s a story that takes place in a semi-similar world and has a hero whose passion is singing and playing the guitar. That might be it as far as similarities go. COCO looks like it’s a “boy and his dog/ hero’s journey,” whereas THE BOOK OF LIFE was love triangle/ quest-driven fare.

Listen, it’s not like this hasn’t happened before; DANTE’S PEAK went up against VOLCANO. ARMAGEDDON battled against DEEP IMPACT. Even OUTBREAK was pitted against CONGO. The filmmakers know there’s more than one way to tell a story against the backdrop of an event. This is why we have so many “boy and his dog” stories, or a multitude of “buddy cop” movies, or wedding-themed romantic comedies.

Why not have more than one Day of the Dead-set story?! Why not be happy there’s more than one?! It’s my biggest fear that this outrage belittles the cause for diversity, representation and inclusion in cinema. Yes, we don’t want to get stuck in a rut with more than we need, but there’s assuredly room for more. Overall, we want authentically told stories whose specificity speaks profound sentiments on a universality. By discounting even one, it feels like a slight for a good cause.

Plus, it’s also way too early to pit these two films against each other as the general public (nor press) have seen COCO. 

COCO opens on November 22.


About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.