After writing so many articles over so many years bemoaning Pixar’s perennial failures in the People’s Republic of China, it gives me great pleasure to write these words: Pixar has finally delivered a number one smash hit to the Middle Kingdom.On Sunday, Coco will surpass the coveted 1 billion RMB box office threshold ($152 million at current exchange rates), making it the 14th picture, and only the second animated one, to reach that threshold in 2017.
And by Monday, Coco will overtake Universal/Illumination Entertainment’s Despicable Me 3 1.03 billion RMB / $152.6 million to become this year’s highest-grossing animated feature film in the territory.That will put it behind only Disney’s hit Zootopia as China’s second-biggest animated hit of all-time. Zootopia earned 1.53 billion RMB, or $234 million, in its 2015 release.Despite its long record of misses, misfires, and flops in the Middle Kingdom, which include this past summer’s Cars 3, a disappointment at just $19 million in receipts from Chinese multiplexes, Pixar finally has scored the success it deserves there.That success has come quite unexpectedly in the form of Coco. The story about a young Mexican boy who visits his dead ancestors in his quest to pursue his dream seemed unlikely to do much business in China. In fact, Pixar’s corporate parent Disney is said to have been reluctant to submit the picture to China’s film authorities for distribution.
But the shared cultural value of reverence for one’s ancestors—where Mexico has its Day of the Dead holiday, China has its Tomb Sweeping Day—was a big part of Coco‘s appeal for Chinese moviegoers. They have rewarded the picture with an extremely leggy run, one that has just been extended for an additional 30 days by China’s film czars.As the millions of fans of Disney’s Coco, know, the Lee Unkrich-directed Pixar film leans heavily on Day of the Dead imagery and a warmth of spirit that has led critics to call it “a love letter to Mexico.”
Like the Disney film, Frozen before it, which led thousands of travelers to book trips to Norway, Coco is poised to introduce a whole new set of travelers (and multi-generational traveling families) to the places and traditions whose color and charm helped the film reap $190 million domestically and $600 million around the world. When contacted, Adventures by Disney commented that no current plans for Coco-inspired trips were on their horizon, but it can be assumed that if the DVD-release continues Coco’s box-office reign, trips to places connected with the film will soon be front and center on Disney’s travel itineraries.
In the meantime, intrepid travelers can create a trip to Mexico infused with the same marigold and cayenne colors we see in the film, and with the same artful traditions from The Day of The Dead and other Mexican cultural treasures.
As with Frozen, where Disney animators made an advance trip to Norway to scope out real places for inspiration, Coco’s animators journeyed to Mexico for multiple trips to find visual metaphors for Héctor, Miguel and the family Rivera as well as for Frida Kahlo, who plays an important (although posthumous) role in the film.
The town in which the Riveras live was inspired by Santa Fe de la Laguna in the Michoacán region of Mexico. The small town, next to Lake Patzcuaro, was founded in 1533, and is replete with colonial-era charm as well as strong ties to the indigenous community of the Purepecha people whose customs and traditions inspired the filmmakers.
Family travelers echoing the Rivera family odyssey will be enchanted by the town’s cobbled streets and an elegantly simple town church, as well as by a strong tradition in handicrafts and cooking.
In Mexico City, Coco-lovers will find the structure that inspired the Land of the Dead’s massive building complex and its “Department of Family Reunions.” The Palacio de Correos de Mexico was one of the first cast-iron buildings in Mexico, opened in 1907 as the country’s flagship postal office.
A short trip to the suburbs of Mexico City in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacán gets you to the house in which Kahlo was born and lived with (and without) her unfaithful but oddly loyal lover and husband, Diego Rivera. Film lovers will also remember the house from the Selma Hayak film, Frida.
Wander around the gardens in Kahlo’s interior courtyard and then spend hours looking at Frida’s own Día de Muertos figurines that grin from the walls of the bedroom where the disabled artist spent many hours painting and drawing in her mirror-topped four-poster bed.
Along with the Casa Azul, Coco lovers can cool off in Tulum or in Chichen Itza in the Mexican Yucatán where they will find plenty of cenotes (the peninsula has over 7,000 of these natural sinkholes) that echo the underground pit that Miguel and Héctor find themselves deep within before love, music and much family feeling comes to the rescue.