Pixar dropped the trailer for their next film Coco; the latest, twisting turn in the film’s long development. Long noted for its similarities to the 2014 Jorge Gutierrez film, The Book of Life, the trailer for Coco hasn’t assuaged fears that its a rip-off. Should we be upset at the similarity between the films or is there a reason to celebrate them both?
Coco isn’t the first Pixar film to fall foul of a similar story to that of another film. Some of you may remember the film Newt which was announced as being in development in April 2008 but ended up being canceled in 2010. While the rumor mill swirled, the reason turned out to be that Newt was deemed too similar to the film Rio, which was released in 2011.
Films with similar themes are nothing new. Heck, they aren’t even new for animated films. MGM’s The Cat Concerto and Warner Bros.’ Rhapsody Rabbit are two well-known shorts from the Golden Era that share similar themes and stories and came out at around the same time. Neither studio claimed plagiarism, but both shorts remain an amusing example of just how coincidentally similar productions can be. Yet the existence of one short hasn’t ever seemed to have a negative impact on the other. Sure MGM’s William Hanna and Joe Barbera were only too happy to collect an Oscar in 1947, but both are recognized as classics and nobody’s ever proven that audiences were any less entertained.
In modern times we don’t have too many examples besides the aforementioned Pixar film, but we do have all-too-many examples of actual rip-offs of released and successful films. The ‘mockbuster’ is a sector that’s big business around the world. Many proffer no attempt at innocent coincidence and actively play up their similarities to other films in the hope that consumers are confused and purchase their film instead. Such films stray far closer to the legal land in the sand as Disney’s lawsuit over Phase 4 Films’ film Frozen Land which was in actuality a re-branded version of their film The Legend of Sarila. That lawsuit eventually went Disney’s way.
Film from major studios don’t tend to target similar themes unless they’re a) hot commodities, or b) generic, public domain stories. The former are why there are a ton of superhero film franchises at the moment all with gross similarities to each other but are not contested by anyone. The latter enables studios to make take the same stories and put their own unique twist on them. It’s the reason why the original Hans Christian Andersen tale ‘The Snow Queen’ was used by both Disney for Frozen and Russian studio Wizart for their film The Snow Queen.
With both The Book of Life and Coco, it’s hard to see why fans should be upset about the existence of the latter. As noted in this article on Polygon, someone mentioned that people ought to be happy that two films with the Day of the Dead as their themes exist and are marketed to the general population. This is especially poignant when you consider all the cultural festivals that don’t have a film based on them.
One aspect of the contemporary industry that makes a situation like the one we find ourselves in palatable is that the market for animated films is enormously larger than it was even ten years ago. It can easily accommodate two films with a similar basis, and given the three year difference between The Book of Life and Coco, that’s even more likely. Given the beloved status of the Cat Concerto and Rhapsody Rabbit after 70 years, its almost assured that the existence of both films will be to their mutual benefit.
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