Oscars 2018: How SDSU alumnus Lalo Alcaraz helped ‘Coco’ feel Mexican
Cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz joined the movie production for “Coco” as a cultural consultant in a way that is familiar to his fans and critics: He turned his vocal criticism for the Disney Company into a cartoon called “Muerto Mouse.”
The dead mouse caricature was a jab at Disney’s attempt in 2013 to trademark “Dia De Los Muertos,” the Mexican holiday to honor the dead. A movie by that name was never made, but with Alcaraz’s help and the adoration of millions, Disney did make a film about Mexican culture called “Coco” that went on to become a worldwide phenomenon, earning $745 million in ticket sales since its late November release date.
Disney later abandoned its effort to trademark a national day of such significance, and it hired Alcaraz to help them ensure “Coco” rang true and avoided such missteps when it finally opened in movie theaters in the U.S., Mexico and some four dozen other countries worldwide.
Five years later, the San Diego State University alumnus found himself on the red carpet outside the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood as “Coco” won a pair of Oscars for best animated feature film and original song on Sunday.
Alcaraz did not join the stage to accept the award for best animated feature film, but his fellow San Diego State alumna Darla Anderson, the film’s producer, celebrated on stage with its director, Lee Unkrich. The university gave a shout out to Alcaraz and Anderson on Monday morning on Twitter.
In an interview, Alcaraz says he majored in art and environmental design and graduated in 1987 — not 1986 as the university says.
Coming down from his Oscar buzz on Monday, Alcaraz spoke to The San Diego Union-Tribune on what it was like to join the production of “Coco” and what it means to have a successful Hollywood movie get so much right about Mexican culture.
Here’s our Q&A with Alcaraz:
How did you become a cultural consultant for “Coco”?
Alcaraz: I was one of the vocal critics of Disney wanting to trademark “Dia De Los Muertos.” Marcela Davison Aviles, who is a long-time Disney consultant and is a friend with a producer of the movie, had the bright idea to say, “Let’s call Lalo and ask if he wants to join the team.”
What was your reaction to that?
Alcaraz: At first I thought, ‘No way.’ The universe has a sick sense of humor when it comes to my life.
Did you have reservations about joining the production?
Alcaraz: Yes. I had never met these people before and so I had to ask them, “Are you serious about this? “Are you going to listen to my opinions? Because I’ve been known to have many, and I don’t try to be indirect about them.” And they said, “Yes, of course.”
And I asked them, “Are you going to have ‘brown-facing’ on this project — that’s when Latino characters are played by Caucasian actors — so this being an animation, there would be a Latino character voiced by a white actor. Luckily we were on the same mindset.
I didn’t want it to be a white-washed movie. And, by all indications, it’s not. Other than John Ratzenberger — he did a voice in this movie, too — it was 100 percent. Even I did a voice. I was the angry mariachi at the beginning of the movie.
What exactly did you do as a cultural consultant?
Alcaraz: I mostly made suggestions in the script, stuff like adding words in Spanish here and there, and making sure they didn’t mispronounce any words in Spanish.
What does “Coco” mean for Mexican culture? For you?
Alcaraz: In political terms, this movie arrived at a perfect time to push back against all this hatred toward immigrants and Mexicans. Art opens up your mind. Nothing opens up your mind like a kid’s movie that is universally loved. It’s really fighting the negativity against Mexico with love and emotion and beauty. That’s why I’m in this.
In terms of the Hollywood business, it’s proof that brown characters and actors can open up a movie worldwide.
Do you think the success of “Coco” will encourage Disney to do more with Mexican culture? Do you imagine they’ll go with a sequel?
Alcaraz: I hope the whole industry takes notice. I think it has. I don’t know about a sequel, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a Miguel, the main character, television series on the Disney Channel.
I’m hoping we keep moving up the foodchain.
Have more questions for Lalo Alcaraz? You can reach out to him on Twitter at @LaloAlacaraz or check out some of his other interviews posted online:
Have some thoughts to share?
Read The Conversation on Flipboard.
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.