PixarsBiggestFan
Note: if you see this on Reddit, I’m the same author.

Hello everyone. Right now in my AP Spanish Language & Culture class, we arw studying Pixar’s Coco and its titling controversy in 2013, in which Disnwy filed trademark claims for the title to be “Día de los Muertos.” However, I was incredibly disturbed by the fact that my teacher intends to teach us an incomplete story in order to skew his students’ opinion against the movie’s ethics and is teaching his opinion on the issue as a fact. As a hardcore Pixar fan, I am determined to share the truth of what really happened in order to allow my peers to have the complete story to form their own opinions. To be clear, I do not believe Disney was justified to try to trademark “Día de los Muertos,” but over 2/3s of the story is deliberately being omitted by both my teacher and the articles he is using because the missing components of the story cast a shadow of doubt on his argument.

The first issue I have is that nobody in my class besides myself is aware of the aftermath of the filing. I do not know if he intends to explain this on Tuesday or Wednesday, but it was clearly omitted from the articles we were assigned for homework last week and is a fact that cannot be disputed. This is that within a week of the trademark filing, all 900+ filings were voluntarily repealed by Disney and within the next couple of years, over a dozen cultural consultants were hired, including Lalo Alcaraz, who made the “Muerto Mouse” cartoon. To further show the impact of these cultural consultants, at one point in the film, Abuelita scolds a mariachi with her chancla (shoe), which was originally a wooden spoon in the storyboard reels, a correction suggested by Alcaraz.

The second issue is all the technicalities of how a Pixar film is made, and false assumptions made as a result of overlooking this process. If certain people like my teacher would actually look at the technicalities, they would realize that even without public outcry, Coco never would have been called “Día de los Muertos.” First is how a Pixar film is actually titled. It is important to note the controversial title was filed in 2013, over 4 years before the movie was actually released. Titles are created by a combination of the director, writers, and story artists, and may take most of the film’s time in production to finalize, such as with the original Toy Story. A film may not be given a title without the approval of the director. Legal files the trademark claims and ensures there a no merchandise trademarks for the approved title. Because it can take so long to finalize a title, films are given working or temp titles for employees to refer to the films as, such as “Peep” for Toy Story 4. It is probable that “Día de los Muertos” was in fact a temp title for Coco, which legal may have misinterpreted to be the film’s final title. Or, legal (which is not supposed to have a creative voice) thought it would be a good idea to trademark “Día de los Muertos” in order to try to make the film that for additional revenue without the director’s approval. Additionally, it is important to note that any comment on the matter by director Lee Unkrich should not be interpreted as his giving approval to the controversial title, because anything major in a film’s production generally has its credit given to the director (regardless of it’s good or bad), and if Lee denied titling the film this, it would raise even more questions. Additionally, this stands out as being rather unusual for two reasons: first, Pixar never files trademarks for original films this far ahead of their announcement (typically, it’s within a year or less of announcement - Onward was 6 months ahead of announcement in 2018 and Soul was about a month ahead of announcement in 2019), and, Pixar’s final titles are never strikingly similar to their untitled “titles.” Coco’s untitled title was “The Untitled Pixar Film About Día de los Muertos,” where as other examples are “The Untitled Pixar Film That Takes You Inside The Mind” (Inside Out), “The Untitled Pixar Film About Dinosaurs” (The Good Dinosaur), and “The Untitled Pixar Film That Takes You Into A Suburban Fantasy World” (Onward), none of which are strikingly word-for-word similar to Coco’s allegedly intended name. Additionally, given that Coco was in production for 6 years and this controversy was less than 2 years into it, it is highly probable no title was yet finalized. Titles can change throughout production, such as WALL•E originally being called “WAL•E” and being changed to ensure it would be pronounced properly by the audience and Brave originally being called “The Bear and the Bow.” Essentially, there was poor communication between story and legal that went horribly wrong, creating an unnecessary controversy. Had the communicated like they were supposed to, any attempt by legal to call Coco “Día de los Muertos” would have failed without the general public ever knowing someone within Pixar attempted to call Coco a controversial title. Even if Lee had somehow approved the title, there would have been internal hurdles within Pixar itself. First, Coco was greenlit in October 2011, a year and a half before the controversy. From literally right after receiving the green light and for many years into production, there were regular trips to Mexico to research. Much of this research was done by spending time with families, and if Lee was seriously considering “Día de los Muertos” as a title, he almost definitely would have mentioned the film by title, which likely would have sparked a negative reaction by someone he told. Additionally, he had been with Pixar since Toy Story 1, and quickly learned during research trips they love Pixar in Mexico, given the number of hand-paintings of Woody and Buzz Lightyear, hand-made piñatas of Woody, Buzz, and Mike Wazowski, and kids wearing Lightning McQueen shirts the Coco team found, so it is unlikely he would want to risk jeopardizing Pixar’s love in the country on a Mexican-centered movie. Secondly, Pixar employs many Latinos who work on their movies (not just Coco). One of the top story artists on the film was Adrian Molina, a Mexican-American who later became a writer, lyricist, and the co-director of Coco. I am sure many of these artists would have been upset if they knew Pixar was intending to call Coco “Día de los Muertos.” At some point in production, every Pixar movie is really bad and gets better as a result of constructive criticism from Pixar’s employees, which would would have been a really good opportunity (which probably would have been utilized) for Latinos at Pixar to criticize the “Día de los Muertos” title. Thirdly, a few months before a Pixar movie, there is a test screening to an audience who doesn’t work for Disney and Pixar. This audience is as diverse as possible, and I’m sure they would try to include Mexican-Americans in this audience. They would likely point out their problems with the title. Even if there was already a trailer, the film’s name could still be changed - it’s not uncommon for films to be cancelled or have their release date changed after there’s already a trailer or two. Disney is no stranger to this - Disneynature’s Dolphins was cancelled right before release, and Ralph Breaks the Internet had “Wreck-It Ralph 2” dropped from its title after the teaser trailer was already out. Additionally, significant changes can occur as a result of these test screenings. For example, in WALL•E, during the garbage airlock scene, initially EVE was shocked by Auto instead of WALL•E, which didn’t resonate with the test audience as well as the final version in which it’s WALL•E who’s been shocked. Lastly, even if the title had somehow made it through Pixar, under normal circumstances, it most likely wouldn’t have received a trademark filing until 2016 at the earliest, 3 years after it actually did, which would have caused public outcry much later than it actually did and in order to actually receive the trademark, the government would have to approve it, which they probably wouldn’t have. Disney would have given the film a different title if it wasn’t approved in most countries because it would hurt their revenue to not have a trademarked title. It would have to be approved nearly everywhere to be given a title because there’s usually very little variance between country-specific titles when they’re translated to English unless it would benefit the marketing in a region, would resonate with the audience better, or if it doesn’t translate properly (such as Côco being a curse would in Brazilian Portuguese, which is why their title is “Viva: A Vida É Uma Festa” (“Live: Life Is A Party”).

All of this is based on years of my observations of Pixar as a lifelong fan. Before I share this with my Spanish class, I want to post it here to ensure that it makes sense to other fans and is likely accurate (which I feel it is). Either way, I’m sharing something with my class because too much information has been deliberately hidden from my peers in order to skew our opinions. Feedback on my findings and conclusion would be greatly appreciated.

Also, if anyone wants to read the articles my teacher assigned, these are the links (note they are both in Spanish with little, if any, English): https://aristeguinoticias.com/0705/kiosko/quiere-walt-disney-apropiarse-del-dia-de-muertos/ & https://www.eluniversal.com.mx/espectaculos/cine/piden-perdon-por-querer-registrar-dia-de-los-muertos
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Bonnie
It's really awesome that you're defending the movie. Is your teacher just mad about the title thing or are they against the whole movie?

I'm a little bit confused; was there a controversy about the very idea of calling the movie that, or just trademarking it? I've only heard the latter, but some of these defenses imply the former. Or is it being presumed the two are so widely known to be deeply intertwined that anyone he told would immediately think about how it was getting trademarked (maybe I'm weird; it's definitely not the first thought on my mind when I hear a movie's title)?

I might have a different view on this once you clarify that, but for now I think you've got a lot of good points here. I'm not sure about the whole thing that sometimes movies are canceled after releasing trailers. I'm not sure it's completely relevant (surely they wouldn't cancel it just because of a title issue?), and the obvious rebuttal is that, while it might not be uncommon for smaller releases, something from Pixar that cost them at least 175 million to make is a whole other story.

Also, how is this being presented? Are you going in front of the class or handing out an essay, or...? 
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PixarsBiggestFan
The controversy was that Disney tried to trademark the title of Día de los Muertos, but people like my teacher assume that they intended to call the movie that without actual evidence to support that claim, which is what I’m trying to debunk, because whether or not the movie would have been called Día de los Muertos instead of Coco is really the determining factor of how bad the controversy really was. My teacher said that he likes the movie but doesn’t like its ethics because of the title controversy, which I doubt he thoroughly understands. I discussed movies being cancelled post-trailer release to provide evidence that major changes regarding a release of a movie can happen at the last minute, with cancellation being the most extreme, and although Pixar wouldn’t have cancelled Coco over a title, it does show willingness within Hollywood and The Walt Disney Company to make significant changes at the very last minute if needed. My teacher has already been teasing how he’ll present the lesson with an implied assumption none of us actually know about it before his class and that if we have we’ve never extensively researched it (which probably is the case for everyone except myself), so I’ll raise my hand at some point during the lesson (like if asks for our thoughts) and present all the missing info. I’ve already teased to my peers (and told some of them most of the story) on social media that there will be info he’s neglecting to teach us because it will alter our view, if not make us question the lesson.
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