“Coco,” the story of a Mexican boy connecting with his family on Dia de los Muertos, has proved a resounding success both at the box office and in the hearts of fans.
Despite all the movie’s accolades, though, there has been one tiny hiccup, and theatergoers just can’t let it go.
“Olaf’s Frozen Adventure,” the Disney short that aired before “Coco” for the first few weeks of its run, drew unrelenting criticism from viewers, with much of the negative response having to do with the animation’s 20-plus-minute length. Others called the “Coco”-“Frozen” pairing “tone-deaf,” speculating that the latter was positioned ahead of the feature film in an attempt to woo white audiences to a story centered on Latino traditions.
In an interview Monday, following the Golden Globe nod announcements, we asked “Coco” director Lee Unkrich if there was anything to be learned from the situation with the “Frozen” short and its removal from screenings.
“No lessons learned,” he said, reiterating that “the ‘Frozen’ short was always meant to be a limited run on the film. That’s what we did.”
Following the initial complaints, critical tweets and unflattering think pieces, we’d spoken with “Coco” co-director and writer Adrian Molina at the end of November. He called the short “a little bit of an experiment” and acknowledged that he’d heard the length had “taken people by surprise.”
Disney removed the short from the movie in early December, telling Entertainment Weekly that it was only ever intended to run short-term. Disney’s statement did not mention any of the widespread criticism.
“We wanted as many people as possible to see ‘Coco,’ and we felt that pairing the ‘Frozen’ short with it was a good way to get as many people in as possible,” Unkrich said on Monday.
In an echo of Molina’s explanation, the director said there was a feeling that the two projects fit together because of the shared themes of family tradition.
“It’s had its limited run now, and we hope people continue to go see ‘Coco,’” Unkrich said.
It’s probably safe to say “Coco” will continue to enjoy success without “Olaf’s Frozen Adventure.” The movie has topped the box office for three weeks in a row and is now a Golden Globe nominee for Best Animated Picture.
The “Frozen” short is probably better off, too. It’s now set to air as a TV special on Dec. 14. The project was originally announced as a special before it was paired with “Coco.”
Unkrich spoke more about his movie’s Golden Globe recognition, the fandom and how “Coco” was almost a very different story:
What’s your reaction to getting the Golden Globe nomination?
I’m just so grateful to everybody involved in making this film and grateful to the fans and all the people who have embraced the film so much ― not just here in the United States but all over the world. I think the film has been very meaningful to many, many people, and we’re so happy for that because the entire time we were making it, we were trying to make a film that was respectful and culturally authentic, but that would also be universally appealing and relatable to people all over the world.
Yeah, and it was a long process getting there. The story was originally about an American boy, right?
It was about an American boy, but who was of Latino heritage. Basically, what happened is we were many months into developing that story, and I realized that, just thematically, the story that we were telling was antithetical to what Dia de los Muertos is all about, which is embracing our loved ones who are no longer with us and never forgetting them, never letting go of them. That’s when we kind of made an abrupt turnaround and developed the story that became “Coco.”
It’s really connected with a lot of people. For example, you recently shared a pretty emotional fan letter on Twitter. What inspired you to share that?
I’ve had hundreds of people reaching out to me every single day since the movie came out, back when it first opened in Mexico, and lots of similar sentiment. I chose to share that letter because that was something somebody had written in to Pixar directly, and they had an opportunity off of Twitter to write something more at length, expressing their feelings. I thought it was such a beautiful letter, and it expressed a lot of the sentiment that we’d been receiving about the film.
“Coco” is a movie with a lot of firsts for Pixar. Has there been any discussion of possibly some other firsts, such as LGBTQ storylines?
That hasn’t been thrown around specifically that I’m aware of, but I will say that every film that we’ve ever made at the studio has been the brainchild of a specific director that had a story that they passionately wanted to tell. I wouldn’t rule out any topics or story ideas for the future as long as they are ideas that will have the same broad audience appeal as all the other films we’ve made. We try to make stories that can appeal to everybody all over the world. If somebody has a story to tell that can do that, then all power to them.
“Coco” is in theaters now.