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2017

The new Disney/Pixar film Coco has topped the box office for three weekends in a row, and is well on its way toward passing Justice League and becoming the biggest hit movie to come out during the mid-November-to-mid-December corridor – in other words, in between Disney/Marvel’s Thor: Ragnarok and Disney/Lucasfilm’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Disney owns a lot of stuff, you guys, and they’re angling to own more with a possible purchase of Fox’s movie and TV studios). This is not surprising in the sense that Pixar movies are often big hits (and, again, Disney owns everything) – but it is notable that this particular Pixar production features almost entirely Mexican characters (and I say “almost” only because the origins of its happily mangy dog sidekick are technically unknown).

 

I just edited a new edition of our intro to film studies book The Film Experience, and one of our objectives for the new edition was to revamp our history coverage to talk more directly about major contributors to the medium’s development who happen to be members of marginalized groups – and whose stories are not always told in traditional narratives about how film got to where it is today. And where it is today, incidentally, still requires a ton more work to do, especially in Hollywood – it’s rare to see a live-action big studio film as dominated by non-white people as this animated one, though Universal’s Fast & Furious series does its part. But we are seeing progress, and it’s particularly heartening to see this progress coming from Pixar, because the company hasn’t made that many movies focusing on humans, period, as opposed to the secret lives of toys, bugs, monsters, fish, scarily sentient planet-dominating cars, and so on.

 

Coco isn’t just a movie where the characters happen to be Mexican (though there’s value in that kind of creative choice, too, of course; that's closer to the kind of inclusive casting choices Disney has made on the new Star Wars pictures), but one that specifically speaks to the dynamics of a large Mexican family, that takes place on the Day of the Dead, and immerses itself in a particular culture’s notions about family, memory, and the afterlife. It’s not as hilarious as some past Pixar movies, but it’s a lovely little film. A lot of cartoons have trouble telling human stories that are actually about humans (perhaps understandably; toys and monsters and bugs are probably more fun to animate), and in a relatively weak year for family-targeted animation, which has seen plenty of big-studio product scrambling for a marketable hook (The Boss Baby; The Emoji Movie), it’s nice to see Coco create a fully felt character out of Miguel, its young hero. The movie is still wildly imaginative in its designs – Pixar’s vision of a city populated by the deceased does not disappoint – but it never feels desperate to throw everything it can think of at its audience As a result, it also feels confident that the audience will find it.

 

One interesting aspect of Coco’s success is only tangentially related to the movie itself, but does have to do with the notion of an audience finding it despite the lack of Nemo, Dory, Woody Buzz, or the Incredibles. Coco was initially released in theaters with a short subject in front of it, as has become tradition for most Disney animated features, and just about every Pixar feature. But this wasn’t a Pixar short attached to Coco; rather, it was a 20-minute “featurette” starring the characters from Disney’s megahit Frozen. If 20 minutes sounds like it stretches the definition of a short subject (especially for a family audience), that’s because Olaf’s Frozen Adventure is, in fact, a TV special (an airdate of 12/14 on ABC was recently announced) tacked on to the front of Coco, ostensibly as a special treat.

 

Both the specialness and the treatness have been in doubt, however. There’s speculation that Disney may have been nervous about the financial prospects of a non-sequel Pixar joint with such a specific cultural focus, which would explain why they gave so much screentime over to perhaps the whitest set of characters in the current Disney stable (I mean, the main character in it is a dang snowperson). But what happened next, as the clickbait headlines say, may surprise you: Audiences reacted with irritation towards the Frozen spinoff. Now, a lot of this is anecdotal, as almost all chronicles of audience reactions tend to be, and some of it has to do with the simple yet nearly unsolvable math problem of how to make a kid sit for a 20-minute “short” plus a 105-minute feature (the only real solution: have extremely patient kids). It’s probably a mistake, as ever, to confuse Twitter-complaining with a popular sentiment.

 

Olaf: newfound public enemy number one?

But over in Mexico, where Coco has become the highest-grossing movie in the country’s history (!), the results have been a bit more quantifiable: Though Disney stopped running the Olaf special in front of Coco after a few weeks of its U.S. release, some Mexican theaters (which got the movie several weeks before their U.S. counterparts) began taking it upon themselves to not show Olaf’s Frozen Adventure after some audiences complained. The audiences were – get this – wildly excited to see Coco itself, to see powerful representation from a beloved studio, moreso than whatever bonus Disney thought might draw bigger crowds. U.S. audiences, too, turned out not to need hand-holding from Olaf to lead them into Coco. It's a potent example both of how Disney may be thinking more progressively than they were even five or six years ago... and how audiences around the world may be even further ahead than that.

 

 

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Melanie McFadyen

NCA 2017 Wrap-Up

Posted by Melanie McFadyen Dec 7, 2017

Last month, a few of our editors flew down from our New York offices to Dallas, Texas, to participate in the 103rd annual conference for the National Communication Association. There, we had the chance to meet with Communication instructors like yourselves, from a variety of courses and institutions. If you were in attendance at this year's NCA and stopped by our booth or chatted with some of our editors, THANK YOU! We had a blast, and hope you did too!

 

For those who couldn't make it this year, see below for some pictures and insights from our editors in attendance:

 

Hellooooooo, Dallas!

 

This year marked the first time the conference was held in Dallas, and the city proved to be a great location for the event! In this commercial and cultural hub, scholars around the country learned a lot from each other as they shared ideas, engaged in civil dialogue, and discussed educational tools and teaching methods.

 

Tony Tasset's Eye (2007), found in downtown Dallas

 

The days of November 16th - 19th were filled with educational panels, meetings of special interest groups, and other exciting programs. If you wandered among the vendors and other book-sellers at the exhibition booths you may have spotted Macmillan's red-and-white banner at our booth, where we had great conversations with instructors about our catalog this year. 


Just look at those lights!

 

And of course, after long days of engaging in scholarly discourse, it was time to party! Bedford/St. Martin's held hteir party at the Midnight Rambler, a gorgeous location perfect for a party of communication experts. It was the perfect even to wrap up the conference and the week!! 

 

Next year's NCA conference will be held in Salt Lake City, Utah on November 8th - 11th. The theme will be "Communication at Play," which, according to the event's website, "is intentionally and playfully ambigious." We can't wait to see what next year's theme shapes up to be, and hope to see you there! 

 

Did you attend the NCA this year? What were some of the highlights and takeaways for you? Tell us in the comments, or email a brief statement to melanie.mcfadyen@macmillan.com, and I'll add it to the blog!