Why 'Coco' is so much more than your average box office hit
Posted December 8, 2017 4:31 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2017 1:28 p.m. EST
(CNN) — A little boy wielding a special guitar has made beautiful music at the box office since "Coco" debuted in theaters last month.
But how is it Pixar's charming, Mexico-set animated film "Coco," which highlights a culture on the other side of a border wall the current administration aims to expand, found its way to triumph in the age of Trump?
Like the film itself, the answer has a tapestry of colors.
"Coco," which is now the No. 1 film at the box office for the third weekend in a row, follows the story of Miguel Rivera, a Mexican child who explores his family's past on Dia de los Muertos.
Anthony Gonzalez voices Miguel. Gael Garcia Bernal, Benjamin Bratt and Renee Victor also star.
In pursuit of his love for music, Miguel embarks on a story that touches on themes of family, ambition, loss, and legacy -- qualities, of course, that can be found in essentially all of Pixar's greatest hits.
But "Coco" has struck a special nerve with Latino audiences, who have been fighting to reclaim the narrative about their culture long before the idea of President Donald Trump even became a possibility.
Of course, he certainly hasn't helped.
Since the start of his campaign, Trump has come under fire on multiple occasions for his various characterizations of Mexican immigrants, particularly his comments portraying them as "rapists" and criminals.
Claudia Puig, president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, sees "Coco" as a sort of "soothing tonic for a community that's really been beleaguered and disrespected."
"For us Latinos, it's almost like a rebuke to Trump and the way he sees Mexicans as problematic and horribly stereotyped," she said. "This movie is showing a completely different side."
"Coco's" success should only be thought a surprise in that a film like this has taken so long to become a reality.
Much of its beauty is in its details.
An abuelita who will straighten any sticky situation with the use of her chancla. A Dia de los Muertos altar surrounded by plates of pan dulce. A child whose loving family attempts to bulk his slender frame with an overwhelming amount of tamales.
Then there's the fact that the film feels no need to translate any of the Spanish words.
"They're really small details but they mean a lot," Puig said.
Success and what's next
"Coco's" success could prove to mean a lot too.
The film has secured the top spot at the Box Office each weekend since it opened on Nov. 22. This weekend, it earned another $18.3 million, adding to a domestic total that has now reached $135.5 million. The film has grossed more than $250 million internationally.
In Mexico, where it opened Oct. 27, the film grossed 1.07 billion pesos (or $56.1 million) in just 20 days, becoming the highest grossing film of all time, in local currency. The record was previously held by "The Avengers," which made 827 million pesos during its run.
The animated film also has yet to be released in some major international markets. It opens in Australia on December 26, in Brazil on January 4, and in the United Kingdom on January 19.
The film's success comes at the end of a year during which Latinx creators have thrived.
"Despacito" broke streaming records. Netflix successfully rebooted classic sitcom "One Day a Time" with a Latino family at the center and will debut a second season on January 26. Lin-Manuel Miranda continued to exist.
The question is one of momentum -- how to turn this big moment for Latinx in entertainment into a new normal. (Latinx is a gender-neutral term for Latino.)
Gloria Calderon-Kellett, executive producer of Netflix's "One Day at a Time," is "cautiously optimistic" that it's possible.
"It speaks more to quality content and the ability for Latino stories to live within, let's say, a world like Pixar and Disney," she told CNN. "They have such an incredible banner of quality storytelling that when they embrace the Latino story, [the result is] so good. It just speaks to keeping your head down and continuing to do the work, which is what we need to do as storytellers."
Calderon-Kellett continues to do her part. In addition to the new season of "One Day at a Time," she's producing a comedy pilot for CBS centered on a Latinx family called "History of Them."
The project, which also has an African American character and an East Indian character, has placed Calderon-Kellett in a position in which she says she's having to "practice what I preach."
She's making an effort to seek out writers from those two backgrounds in hopes of having people in her writer's room who can speak to those experiences. Like with her search for Latinx writers for previous projects, she's found she has had to put forth more effort to find African American and East Indian writers because agencies don't typically have a deep well of them at the ready.
"I only knew that about Latinos," she said. "I feel my eyes are really opened. It makes me want to, in my future work, not just represent Latinos."
Bernal, who reportedly dedicated the film to children living "with a lot of fear" due to the "narrative" that's been painted about their culture, told CNN the beauty of "Coco" lies in the message of "interconnection."
"This is what will only save us -- humanity. The only thing that will save us is this connection," he told CNN.
CNN's David Daniel contributed to this report.