ByElise Jost, writer at
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Elise Jost

In the movie industry, it's often a tough call to determine who borrowed from whom, and looking at movie release dates won't solve it. Especially at studios like , some projects might take a decade between the moment they're pitched and the moment they actually come out as a full-length feature.

While has recently been hit with a lawsuit by screenwriter Gary Goldman, who claims he was the one to come up with the plot of Zootopia and the studio robbed it from him, its sub-studio has been facing criticism ahead of the release of , a Mexican adventure in the Land of the Dead that looks a lot like .

'The Book Of Life' And 'Coco' Have A Similar Story, But Different Approach

Released in 2014 by 20th Century Fox and the animation studio Reel FX, The Book of Life centers around three characters, Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana), Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Manolo and Joaquin are both in love with Maria, but the real adventure starts when two deities decide to start taking bets on who will win over the lady's heart.

The movie is, just like Coco, heavily inspired by Mexico's national holiday the Day of the Dead, and features a land of the dead into which the characters venture. But while The Book of Life focuses on a love story, Coco is about a young boy who inadvertently finds himself in the lad of the dead, which leads him to explore the history of his family. So, different enough?

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In terms of timeline, Coco reportedly had been pitched as far back as 2010, but the first official announcement was in 2012. Meanwhile, The Book of Life started production at the very end of 2012 and was released in 2014. Pixar's notoriously long development times clearly don't work in the studio's favor, so it could very well be that the idea for Coco was born way before a single word was spoken about The Book of Life.

Disney Pixar Is Making Progress With Their Treatment Of Mexican Culture

What also doesn't speak in Disney Pixar's favor is the studio's approach to telling a typically Mexican story. The style of both movies — bright colors mixed with depictions of skulls and death — has long been a popular aesthetic, but hasn't always been appropriated respectfully. The fact that The Book of Life was made by Mexican director Jorge R. Gutiérrez when Disney Pixar has come under fire more than once for disrespecting Mexican culture, then, is all the more infuriating to the fans of Gutiérrez's work.

The biggest outrage erupted when Disney attempted to trademark the phrase "Dia de los Muertos" in 2013, which isn't that far off from a movie studio wanting to trademark "Christmas" just because that's what they're going to call their movie. The studio's approach has improved since, however, with a team of Mexican culture experts being hired to consult on the movie and its depiction of Mexican traditions. This team includes Mexican cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz, who had criticized Disney's trademark attempt.

The only way to truly distinguish Coco and The Book of Life, however, will be to watch Coco, out November 22, and see how it compares to its fellow Day of the Dead-inspired animation.

Have you seen The Book of Life? Do you think Coco looks too similar?


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