The Reality of Coco and Its Relationship with The Book of Life

Coco (2017)
                                        Concept Art

As most of you know, Pixar recently announced its next film, Coco, that will premiere this year in late November. The logline for this film is, “Coco follows a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who sets off a chain of events relating to a century-old mystery, leading to an extraordinary family reunion.”

Right off the bat, people noticed that themes of Coco were very similar with the plot of another film called The Book of Life that was created and directed by a Mexican artist named Jorge R. Gutierrez. You may be familiar with Gutierrez’s work, as he created the Nickelodeon series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera. Gutierrez directed the movie The Book of Life; which is a movie also about a boy…a Mexican boy…who plays guitar…who also goes to the land of the undead.  People on Twitter called to call out similarities between this screenshot from the movie and the art from Coco that I posted above:

The Book of Life did not do that well in the box office. With its $50 million budget, it barely got to around $100 million. Most people were okay with the movie, but did not like the plot of the movie all that much. I mean, most if not all of the animated movies that perform well in theaters are either from Disney or Pixar. Underdog animated films are not given the light of day.

According to Gutierrez’s twitter, he had been pitching The Book of Life since 2000; in 2007 it was at DreamWorks. Fans of Pixar took to Twitter to call out Gutierrez for ‘copying’ Coco. Apparently Gutierrez pitched BOL to Pixar as well but it was turned down. Funny how now we’re getting movies with diverse stories and characters from Pixar now, when PoC and LGBT creators have been trying to pitch their stories with no such luck.

Now, this begs the question; will you choose to support Pixar, or not go see Coco in theaters? Personally, I am conflicted. I follow a couple of the artists who did some work on Coco. Pixar employs a lot of people and creates beautiful films. At the same time however, why do white, male artists now have to go ‘study’ places and its culture to make films about the lives of others, instead of having the people who they’re studying just work on the film directly? Gutierrez even said he would’ve loved to work on Coco but clearly, he didn’t. Coco will undoubtedly do well at the box office because it’s being made by Pixar. It’s sad to me and many others to see Pixar do stunts like this; if you want an original story, why not work with the people who have the originality? Gutierrez also said that BOL was a love letter to Mexico. Very few animated movies that are mainstream represent a culture in such a genuine, sensitive way.

I hope to see Pixar diversify their staff in the future to make movies that employ the ideas and visions of those who aren’t the old white men that keep perpetuating these glass ceilings.

Ageism and Awkward Advertising

We’ve all experienced it. The cringe-worthy, loud, meme-emulating commercials and advertisements aimed towards younger people. I’ve always seen these and thought, ‘They are so out of touch. It must be a bunch of old people directing these.’

Which is, not in fact, true. The Linkedin article “Why I Miss Old People In the Workplace” highlights that in advertising specifically, younger people dominate the scene.

If there are young people pulling the strings, shouldn’t the content resonate with other young people?

It makes sense, but the products speak for themselves. Advertising is a tricky medium that combines art with a proposition. Visually, the aesthetic has evolved to be much more interesting. Content and argument wise, overall, they feel lacking. I can only assume it’s because the younger people largely in charge of these projects simply do no have the experience required to make advertisement less transparent.

Ironically, people in our age range tend to be as embarassing in “hip, new, relatable” in advertising content as some, but not most, older people tend to be in real life.



I have been studying film for a few years now, and there are many combined aspects that make a great film. Control of your mise-én-scene, lighting, staging, a great premise, etc. However, in all of my years of studying, the most important lesson to me so far is to make sure that the characters in my film are likable, relatable, interesting, skillful, funny, passionate, mysterious… An interesting and unique characterization is so crucial to creating a good character. If your character is just normal, like an everyday person, what is so special about them? Why should the audience care for them at all? Who cares if they get blown up, ran over, or shot? For a random, silly example:

If a person was just walking down a street and texting and got ran over by a semi truck, nobody would really care. But if they person was holding ten newly baked pies with a party hat on, gives one to a homeless man and then got ran over, the audience might feel more for that character. 

For example, in the Lord of the Rings, when the viewer is first introduced to Aragorn, he is in the corner smoking a pipe, with his hood up so we can’t see his face. 

Related imageThe pub owner tells Frodo and his friends that he is a ranger. He is mysterious, and at the moment, nearly impossible to understand if he is dangerous or not. He grabs Frodo and saves him from the crowd, and helps the hobbits find lodging for the night. He puts out candles with his fingers, is quick to react when the rest of the hobbits burst through the door, and immediately sheaths his sword in order to not frighten them. Yet he is still very mysterious, and we don’t know much about him. The next morning, he rushes the hobbits when they try to eat and says they need to get moving. One of the hobbits says  “What about second breakfast?” As they start walking, Aragon tosses him an apple. 

Aragon’s characterization is truly brilliant. We see a character that we are really interested in. We ask ourselves who he is, what’s his story, and are in some ways attracted to him. While still portrayed as somewhat dangerous, he shows small acts of kindness and sympathy. These are absolutely fantastic qualities in a character.

Another character that has a great characterization is Max Fischer in Rushmore. His introductory scene starts with a teacher telling the class about an extra credit problem that is probably the hardest geometry problem in the world to solve. If someone in the class were to solve that problem he would see to it that no one in that class would ever have to open a math textbook again. Everyone starts whispering, “Max can do it.” Max, who is sitting there reading a newspaper, puts it down and says, “Did somebody say my name?”Image result for max fischer math scene

He solves the problem and everyone cheers.

It works so well because, while he is somewhat cocky in this scene, it is math that he is so good at. It shows a very interesting skill, and that he is very proud of and confident about. Then, it is revealed that Max was simply just daydreaming about the class cheering for him. However, the viewer is still encapsulated and ready to see more.

Overall, creating characters like these can be very difficult. It is so important though. An interesting character, like the joker from the The Dark Knight (2008), will make your film awesome. You just have to ask yourself, do I care about this person? Would I want to hang out with this person or even want to be this person? If the answers are yes, then you are on the right track. 

This is something that I am really trying to figure out. I know it isn’t easy, but if I can get good at creating a great character that the viewer is truly invested in, I’m headed in the right direction.

Thoughts After the Show-runner Panel

After reflecting on the animation show-runner panel, I really appreciated the candidness and humbleness of each of the speakers. Mike Mayfield from Mr. Pickles! , Chris Savino from The Loud House, and Brandon Vietti from Young Justice all painted an earnest picture of what being a show-runner truly entails.  Often it means long boring meetings about budgets and schedules. But it also means  “putting on different hats” and having a say in each part of the production pipeline. Because of this, every day is different for this job. Show-runners experience gut busting laughter in the writer’s room as well as reviewing storyboards made by amazing artists. According to Chris Savino, it takes a certain personality to become a show-runner, you have to be obsessed with making the show as close to its original idea as possible.

Along with gaining a better understanding of what being showrunner is like, each of the speakers gave invaluable advice about the industry.

All the speakers expressed there are three essential characteristics in order for someone to be hireable- they are good at art, are kind and a team player, and are punctual with deadlines. They all expressed that they would rather help a not as good kind artist become better than work with a rude good artist. Furthermore, reputation is important because animation is a tight knit community and finding work relies on personal connections made with other professionals. Also bad reputations like being rude or turning work in late can stick for years. Chris Savino expressed he had to overcome his reputation of being someone who complains years after he worked on Ren and Stimpy.

All the speakers voiced that they did not think that they would have their current job. They all took career changing opportunities instead of being fixated on what they thought they wanted. They advised to immersed in current jobs and create the best work and relationships possible. The journey is unpredictable and as long as you do your job well and are genuine you will be fine. The panelists also suggested to specialize in what you want to do and not appear desperate. Desperation often comes from fear and hinders achieving ones goals. Also Chris Savino stated to stop comparing oneself to others. There’s a difference between what we think  we need to achieve and what our actual calling.

Lastly, it’s important to remember why we make animation. As Chris Savino said “entertainment isn’t frivolous”. The art we create can mean so much to people. It can bond families and help people through tough times.

I’m glad that I went to this. I feel more confident about my future in the animation industry and it helped me learn to enjoy and soak up the journey instead of only focusing on the end goal.  I’m excited to integrate their advice into my life and who knows maybe I’ll be in their same position one day.

Ageism: It Starts Early

When deciding what to discuss about ageism, I found myself drawing a bit of a blank. I hadn’t really had any direct experience with ageism in the workplace, asides from some minor things now and then. I wasn’t old enough to be denied a job by someone looking for younger employees. I’m only 20.

But of course, there are many types of ageism, especially on certain websites online. Many websites restrict membership to people at least 13 or 18 years of age. Of course, there are usually legal reasons for this, and of course people lie about their age all the time, but these age barriers imprint certain subconscious assumptions on the abilities of those barred by them.

We start to feel that these kids aren’t worthy of accessing some of the same things we can. We start to think that they’re too foolish, naive, or immature to handle the same things we can as adults. Yet children are still people who still have thoughts and opinions, some of which can even be more eloquent than the ideas of some adults.

A twelve year old on Quora put it simply:

“I am 12. I am not a sheep. I have opinions. I do not live in a cave. I have knowledge. I didn’t live in a basement my whole life. I have stories. What makes these any less valuable than someone else’s just because they’re older?”    -Omer Frank, on Should Quora ban people under 18 from answering questions on Quora?


So ageism is really not just a question of how one age group looks at another (regardless of context) but how all age groups appear to each other and how these sorts of relationships shape society and whether or not these interactions are beneficial or harmful to certain groups.



Another explanation for ageism

Ageism can spawn from the same inherent biases we all have as humans, which is to desire to be around people who look and think like us. It’s something we can’t stop. But perhaps there is another, more innocent cause for this phenomenon.

In the age discrimination article on LinkedIn, I notice the author stated that one excuse for discrimination is that employers would say they wanted “new blood.” This could be a simple cover for bias, but what if it actually meant something better?

I have the feeling many employers like being the kind of person who brings people into the industry. You want to be known as the person who brought up a rising star, or gave a new student their future, right? When you see someone younger and less experienced, you know that they’ll never be able to get a real job if they’re only up against people with years of experience. If hired solely on experience, newcomers would never be able to get a job.

This bias on age could partially be good intentions on behalf of employers who want to give this generation’s “young blood” their first taste of real work. Not just because they’re cheaper and willing to work longer hours, but because you need experience to be hired in the first place. The real issue is, too many employers assume other employers employ solely based on experience, so newcomers get slight priority over those with years of experience more often than necessary.

Inexperience or young age should still have some decision factor when it comes to getting a job. If experience is the only aspect of a resume considered, students would never be able to move beyond internships. Time is against them. This just can’t be the case for every job on the market.

Trollhunters: A Refreshing Hero Story

With their growing popularity, many online streaming services have started creating original content. DreamWorks has taken advantage of the this expanding platform and made a multi-year distribution deal making original content for Netflix. For the most part these shows have been met with gleaming reviews from critics and viewers. One DreamWorks show that stood out is Trollhunters created by Guillermo del Toro.

Trollhunters follows 15 year old Jim Lake Jr. who has been chosen as the next Trollhunter, a magical warrior tasked with fighting the evil trolls (Gumm-Gumms) and protecting the underground civilization of Heartstone Trollmarket . A Trollhunter is chosen by a mystical amulet that gives the user armor and a giant sword. Jim is the first human to ever be given the mantle of Trollhunter, much to the dismay of the whole troll community. With his friends Toby and Claire and his troll mentors Blinky and AAARRRGGHH!!!, Jim must stop the Gumm-Gumm leader Gunmar from returning and destroying the world.

The reason I love this show so much is because it’s the same hero story we’ve seen, but at the same time it’s not. The main difference between Trollhunters and other hero stories is the mood. Heroes nowadays are made to be anti-heroes, heroes that are morally grey and are usually characterized by being very violent. Anti-heroes are awesome, but it’s nice to see a hero who is a genuinely good guy. Jim is hardworking and caring person especially when it comes to family. His personality reminds me of Peter Parker, aka Spiderman, a good guy who values education, friendship, and family. I feel like in television, for dramas and superhero shows specifically, there seems to be this inclination towards dark storylines with death and violence and other bad stuff. With so many shows with this dark mood it’s refreshing to watch something like Trollhunters that has some sad moments, but ultimately keeps an atmosphere of fun.

Trollhunters is also very strong with characters and relationships. Jim’s growth as a hero and his relationship with his mother are two examples of this. Throughout the series Jim is trying to step up to his new role as Trollhunter, but struggles because of a lack of support from the other trolls. He also tries to keep his troll hunting exploits a secret from his mother and as a result their close relationship is broken. It is uncommon to see such attention to character in an animated kids show. Usually characters change a little, but are ultimately the same throughout. Like the Teen Titans, they had moments where they grew and became more mature heroes however, at the end of the day their characterization and personalities were pretty unwavering. Trollhunters takes that extra step to make compelling characters that feel real even though they are animated.

I think Trollhunters is a great example of how an animated series can be enjoyed by people of all ages and have a great story and characters. Its fun mood makes it a delight to watch and doesn’t make me feel depressed or make me question my existence. I feel it’s important for people to watch a show that is uplifting especially in these troubling times. If you haven’t seen Trollhunters I highly recommend you watch it.

The Importance of Independent Creators for Diversity In Animation

Like Sapphire told us, industry professionals look to online creators via social media to see what and resonating with people. Because of social media, consumers and independent creators are helping create a market for animations with more diverse characters.

From fan art and fan fiction to independently made comics there is an online push for characters with identities other than “white heterosexual male”.

Image result for give elsa a girlfriend tweetFor example the hashtag #GiveElsaGirlfriend trended on twittered since her “conceal don’t feel” song is analogous to feelings of closeted queer people.

The animation industry has a lot of room to improve with the representation of women, LGBT people, and people of color. Fortunately recent shows like Steven Universe, Bob’s Burgers, and Avatar: The Last Airbender showcase diversity, feminism and fully developed nuanced characters. But there is still issues with getting characters with different identities on screen. For instance, when we had our discussion about LGBT representation in class, Sabrina Contugno described the great difficulty and ultimately failure to put a lesbian couple in Gravity Falls. Sabrina even described how she intentionally desexualized these characters by making them older and only having them hold each other instead of kissing.

Independent creators do not experience the same obstacles previously described. Luckily with the internet these artists are able to work full time through different avenues, like selling prints, doing comic book covers, and making books etc. Some independent artist who do amazing work and display diverse identities are:

Image result for markus prime BRUH

Markus Prime  (instagram who is known for publishing B.R.U.H.: Black Renditions of Universal Heros. Markus draws black female renditions of famous characters from Naurto to Buzz Lightyear to Wonderwoman.

Sophie Campbell (tumblr mooncalfe) is a comic artist known for her works Wet Moon and Shadoweyes. describes that her illustrations “tend towards adolescent females or young women, a departure from many mainstream comics which usually center around male characters or a single female character often portrayed as a sex icon. In contrast, Campbell’s characters are diverse including various races, body types, sexual orientations as well as differently-abled characters” Image result for tj and amalEk. Weaver created the online comic The Less Than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal, which is about Amal who recently comes out as gay to his parents. After, he gets drunk and promises a stranger- T.J. -to let him travel with him to Providence from Berkeley where Amal is going for sister’s graduation. This is a beautiful comic that represents queer people in a realistic way.  This comic has won multiple awards such as the 2016 Harvey award and the 2015 Lambda Literary Award.

On both an individual level and in the grand scheme of the industry, independent creators have a profound effect. Independent creators make well-rounded diverse characters that consumers crave. Also these artists show that stories that include different identities can be successful. Consumers should keep being vocal and independent should keep fearlessly creating.