Is Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Really a Ripoff of ‘Book of The Life?’
I considered doing a regular review of Pixar’s “Coco,” but what’s the point?
I mean it’s Pixar! I knew it was going to be good, you all knew it was going to be good. There’s a reason the Oscar for Best Animated feature is nicknamed the Pixar Prize. There are times they’ve won despite not even deserving it. That’s a fault of most voters lack of interest/respect in the medium. However, THAT’S a whole other discussion. “Coco” is quite simply a brilliant film and another instant classic for Pixar. All the praise it’s getting is deserved. But what almost always comes with praise? Backlash! For this film the main source of the backlash is the existence of an earlier film “The Book of Life.”
For those who don’t know “The Book of Life” was a 2014 animated film also about the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. Made by Reel FX creative Studios and distributed by 20th Century FOX. It has its fans to be sure, but at the box office it did OK. The movie made a nice little profit, (enough for talks of a sequel) but nothing earth-shaking. For a smaller studio it was fairly impressive. Cut to 2017 and Pixar (probably THE animation studio of our time) releases its Mexican Day of the Dead film, “Coco.” It’s on its way to being a big hit (and beat “Justice League“) and it’s only just come out. So what has certain fans so worked up? Many say Pixar ripped off “Book of Life.” Well let’s look at their argument? On a surface level yes there are similarities between the two films. Both are based on the holiday of the Day of the Dead. Both star a main character who against the wishes of his family want to be musicians. They get taken to the land of the dead and must team up with their ancestors or risk being stuck there forever.
OK so in the broad strokes that does sound like the same plot. However, there are far more differences that separate the two. Those similarities I mentioned above still don’t really qualify it as a ripoff in my book. They’re both about Dia de los Muertos which of course is like any other holiday in that there are traditions and images both are going to use because both are coming from the same source. They both have the ancestors of the main character as supporting characters. Again, the ENTIRE point of Dia de los Muertos is to honor your families’ ancestors. What else would you do for a Day of the Dead film? That’s like saying one Christmas film is ripping off another simply because gift-giving is a plot point. The main character wanting to be a musician rather than continue with his families’ traditional occupation… OK I grant you it’s weird they both decided to hang their hats on that old plot. But that’s the thing, it’s an OLD plot. There are tons of movies about a character wanting something that goes against his families’ traditions it’s practically its own genre. I’d argue that the music in “Coco” is far more entrenched in the narrative than in “Book of Life.”
Still there’s no denying that Pixar’s “Coco” is a basic story. That’s one reason I didn’t really want to do a proper review of it. It’s a simple story with simple (by choice) goals, but executes them practically perfect. You can basically tell all the twists and turns “Coco” is going to go. It’s a film made for kids, but even by those standards still fairly predictable. “Book of Life” is not AS predictable, but I’d say that’s more to it having a fair amount of filler in its plot. I mean is the medal subplot really that essential aside from giving the rival more dimensions than that kind of character usually gets? Do you even remember all the stuff involving the bandit army. “Coco” has depth, but it does it without a lot of unneeded side stories. It’s probably Pixar’s most emotionally affecting film since “Inside Out.” The ending is “Up” levels of heartbreaking when you realize why the title is what it is. Now I’ll admit it dealt with themes that my family has gone through so it may have personally hit me a little harder than others.
To put it bluntly in my opinion “Coco” is simply a better film than “Book of Life” PERIOD. That’s not a knock against “Book of Life,” I enjoyed the movie. I might be sounding a little negative and hard on the film so let me say something I really liked about it. The visual design. You see most of the time if you’re not one of the major studios like Pixar, Dreamworks, Blue Sky, etc. chances are your CGI animated film is going to look a few years behind in terms of realistic humans. So how do you get around that? Well since this film is told as a literal story they make the characters look like wooden puppets. It makes it easier to animate and you don’t have to worry about realism. Plus it ties it even more so into the holiday itself. They were able to make their film look far more impressive than it otherwise probably would have looked. That’s good filmmaking!
Still Pixar did it better, it looks better and the story hits you harder. It may be rather simple, but I’m personally more impressed with quality of the making than with originality. Originality is great, but if a film is well told then it won’t matter that you’ve seen its kind before. To quote Roger Ebert, “It’s not what a movie is about, it’s how it is about it.” Some may argue it’s still a ripoff that gets by on the fact it came after “Book of Life.” Able to view that film’s missteps while avoiding them for their own. Well first of all “Coco” has been in development since 2010. I remember when the trailers for “Book of Life” started coming out in 2014 I originally thought it was the Pixar Day of the Dead film I had read about being made. Sometimes stuff like this happens. In fact, let’s squash this rumor. The makers of “Book of Life” did NOT pitch their idea to Pixar only to be turned down and then have their idea stolen like some online are saying. The makers pitched it to Dreamworks before issues caused them to go separate ways.
Let’s get down to brass tacks, why are “Book of Life” fans fighting so strongly against “Coco?” Well I think it largely has to do with the old underdog feeling. Pixar is THE animation studio and works closely with its parent company Disney, which is basically ruling the world of entertainment. “Book of Life” was produced by Guillermo del Toro, a film buff darling. “Book of Life” has probably found most of its audience on DVD rather than its original box office take. I get that some will just straight up like “Book of Life” more for their own reasons. There’s nothing in the world wrong with that. However, those factors often cause certain fans to want to defend their underdog movie. I know it’ll now be doomed to a life of being the hipster alternative to the more mainstream classic “Coco” will undoubtedly become. It doesn’t have to be this way. One does not need to knock something else down to make something they prefer better. We have MORE than enough room for multiple Day of the Dead films.
And if you’re still not convinced and still want to cry “ripoff” then these tweets from the filmmakers of “Book of Life” might be of interest to you…