Early in preproduction for Disney’s Coco — its Pixar movie (reportedly costing $175 million) set on the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead — the normally politically sensitive studio made a slight misstep. It tried to trademark the name Dia de los Muertos. The backlash was understandably ferocious, with a petition against Disney drawing more than 20,000 signatures.
“[It] purely had to do with us not having a title yet,” says director Lee Unkrich. “That triggered a bunch of stuff, and it really blew up. It was heartbreaking for me, because we were working so hard to do everything right and respectfully.”
Four years later, nobody is talking about petitions. Indeed, the film, which was released Nov. 22, just passed $300 million at the worldwide box office and is considered a frontrunner for this year’s animation Oscar. “It ended up being kind of a blessing in disguise,” Unkrich says of the early trademark snafu, “because it caused us to really up our game. We had to make sure we were being as respectful as possible.”
Still, there were a few bumps getting to the finish line, including the sudden departure of Pixar’s chief creative force, John Lasseter, who, the day before Coco‘s release, said he was taking a leave of absence in the midst of allegations of misconduct.