Philosophy, Film, Politics, Etc.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Coco, The Book of Life: What's the Difference?

If you've seen Coco and The Book of Life, you've surely noticed some of the similarities. At the very least, they are both animated musicals set in Mexico on the Day of the Dead (Día de Muertos). And you surely noticed that they both feature a guitar-wielding male protagonist who enters and returns from the Land of the Dead. But how many other similarities did you notice?


In both films:
  • Authenticity is a defining characteristic of the protagonist (Miguel in Coco; Manolo in The Book of Life).
  • The protagonist learns the guitar in secret, and against the wishes of his family. This sets up a conflict between the desire to be true to yourself and devotion to your family.
  • The conflict is resolved in a touching moment when the protagonist picks up his guitar and sings a plaintive song in front of his family. Authenticity and family both prevail in the end.
  • Main characters (Juaquin and Xibalba in The Book of Life and Ernesto in Coco) achieve fame and/or power through deception.
  • The deceptions are eventually exposed.
  • The protagonist meets an ancestor in the Land of the Dead who is also musical (Jorge Sanchez in The Book of Life and Hector in Coco).
  • The protagonist meets several other relatives in the Land of the Dead, who fight for him.
  • Among those relatives are twins who fight as a team.
There are significant differences, of course.
  • The Book of Life is a love story, whereas the plot of Coco focuses on the protagonist's desire to connect to his roots and uncover a family secret.
  • In The Book of Life, the human characters are manipulated by a god (Xibalba) whom Manolo must defeat.
  • In The Book of Life, the main story is presented as a myth, a story-within-a-story. In contrast, Coco is presented as a straightforward story taking place in the real world.
  • The Book of Life has a subplot about redemption: Juaquin proves to be compassionate and ultimately redeems himself through an act of selflessness.
  • The Book of Life is also about compassion, including compassion for animals. Manolo is defined by his compassion as much as his authenticity.
  • The Book of Life deals heavily with the tradition of bullfighting, which is not mentioned at all in Coco.
  • The Book of Life has deeper Mexican roots. It is produced by a Mexican filmmaker (Guillermo del Toro), and directed and co-written by another (Jorge R. Gutiérrez). (They discuss their personal feelings about the film here.) In contrast, Coco is produced, directed and written entirely by Americans. (Adrian Molina, one of Coco's co-writers and co-directers, is Mexican-American. He discusses his background and personal feelings about the film here.)
  • Coco features an all-Latino cast, though the vast majority of voice actors in The Book of Life are also Latino.
  • Spirit animals play a significant role in Coco.
Maybe all the similarities are a coincidence, though it's hard to believe it. The Book of Life was not only released first--its whole production process started first. It seems likely that Coco was heavily influenced by The Book of Life. Hopefully Coco's enormous success will draw more attention to the earlier, and in my mind superior, film.