The Land of the Dead is a realm in the 2017 Disney/Pixar animated feature film Coco, and also the main setting in the movie. It's an afterlife location, an underworld known in Mexican folklore as the final destination for spirits of the deceased.
The Land of the Dead is a realm with complex dimensions occupying deep space. In its heart is a large city full of bright lights and colors, while bridges covered with marigold petals branch from the city for the dead to venture across. The structures in the city are actually buildings upon buildings of previous homes, as the world is constantly expanding to accommodate the new souls that enter. The only beings that inhabit this world are human and animal spirits of the deceased (who have the appearance of "living" skeletons) and the animal-like alebrije. The alebrije not only coexist with the humans of the afterlife, but also act as a guide for the ones who need them.
Reflecting Mexican folklore, the souls of those departed come to the land when they die. Although, in death, the spirit will appear as the age when they died. They also retain the status they had in life, thus there are spirits that are considered celebrities, while other spirits continue their former occupation. The spirit will reunite with their loved ones in the afterlife, but on Día de Los Muertos, those souls can cross over the bridges and return to the Land of the Living to see their living relatives once again. As long as these souls have a picture of who they were in life on their family's ofrenda (altar), they can cross the bridge successfully. In order to get back into the Land of the Dead however, spirits must present ethereal copies of the offerings from their family's ofrenda. For obvious reasons, restrooms do not exist in the Land of the Dead.
If a human enters the Land of the Dead by disturbing or stealing something belonging to a deceased person during Día de Los Muertos, they gradually turn into a spirit and remain trapped in the realm if they can't leave by sunrise. They will need the spirit of a family member (or at least, a spirit the person thinks of as family) to bless a marigold petal to return them to the Land of the Living. However, the spirit can add any conditions they desire to the blessing; if the human breaks them after accepting the blessing, they instantly return to the Land of the Dead.
Despite their nigh-eternal existence in the Land of the Dead, the spirits depend on the memories of the living to continue to exist. In fact, the realm works around three types of "deaths" that each spirit goes through: The first is the last breath the spirit takes when they were human; the second is their own burial; and the third is when the last person who remembers them dies. The third type is considered a "final death" for the spirit, for when they are no longer remembered, they fade into oblivion through disappearing into light and dust. But if a person passes down stories of who the spirit was to other people, and the people wish to remember the spirit, the spirit can continue to exist forever.
- For the Land of the Living and Santa Cecilia, filmmakers were able to find inspiration in the vibrant towns they visited in Mexico. But when it came time to create the Land of the Dead, the rules were much less defined. “I didn’t want to have just a free-for-all, wacky world,” says director Lee Unkrich. “There needed to be some logic to it. We realized that it would need to be ever-expanding because new residents would arrive regularly, if you think about it. So we asked ourselves, ‘What would a world look like that was being added onto constantly?’”
- Filmmakers looked to Mexico City’s ancient history. The city was originally built on the site of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán, which was surrounded by water. And while that water has mostly disappeared, artists found the idea very compelling—a city literally sprung from the water. “That lent itself to this idea of towers,” says Unkrich. “Almost like coral growing up and out representing layers of history.”
Places of interest
- Marigold Bridge - Colossal bridges made from marigold petals, they connect the land to the cemeteries in the Land of the Living. Multiple bridges are connected to the city and each appears to lead to a single location. The bridges themselves are sentient: they can sense whether or not one is allowed to cross them depending on if their picture is displayed on the family ofrenda. If they are not, the bridges make the soul sink into the petals and unable to cross. Once the sun rises after Dia de los Muertos every year, these bridges evaporate into thin air as seen in the deleted scene "To the Bridge". As it was dangerous for any soul to cross them during that period, crossing them would get any soul to be given a premature 'Final Death'.
- Marigold Grand Central Station - A large complex that is the realm's main transport system.
- Department of Family Reunions - A resources department responsible for directing new arrivals to their respective family clans. They use ofrendas from the Land of the Living to locate and direct the spirits.
- Arts District - A section of deceased artists, the dead here are found doing what they loved when they were alive.
- Ernesto's Tower - The residence of Ernesto de la Cruz in the Land of the Dead. Ernesto's lavish mansion is located at the top of a tall tower. A funicular running on the outside of the tower allows access to and from Ernesto's mansion. It is unknown what happened to the mansion, after Ernesto's villainy was exposed.
- Plaza de la Cruz - A plaza dedicated to Ernesto de la Cruz. It features a statue of the musician in the center, just like its counterpart in Santa Cecilia, the Mariachi Plaza. This was presumably altered in accordance with the real one after Ernesto's duplicity was discovered.
- Sunrise Spectacular Stadium - A stadium where the Sunrise Spectacular concert was held, to mark the end of Dia de los Muertos. The stadium is also where Ernesto's true colours are exposed to the Land of the Dead.
- Its equivalent in the Disney Animated Canon is the Underworld. It is also equivalent to The Great Beyond in the Pixar film Soul.
- Several Mexican stars and idols make cameos in the Land of the Dead, including Frida Kahlo, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Maria Felix, Agustín Lara, Cantinflas, El Santo, and Zapata.
- Alebrijes were not traditionally tied to Dia de Los Muertos; however, the filmmakers felt the folk art would be well-represented in the film and were excited to see these figurines come to life. In addition, Pedro Linares, the creator of alebrijes, dreamed of these creatures when he was sick and near-death, leading to him creating the art. The Coco team saw the connection between the alebrije and death to incorporate them into the Land of the Dead, as guides in the spiritual world.
- Marigolds (or cempasúchil) are present throughout the land, as it is said that marigolds emit pleasant aromas that attract the dead and lead them back to their families.
- During the scene where Imelda is arguing with a clerk about her not being able to cross the bridge, the computer she destroys with her boot is a 1980's Macintosh.
- Miguel passes through a painting of two girls at Frida Kahlo's art studio, referencing the Grady Twins from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
- The DJ at Ernesto's mansion is a caricature of Camilo Lara Alvarez, a Mexican rapper.
- Cameos and references to various Disney/Pixar merchandise include:
- A113 can be seen on the Land of the Dead's station.
- A Pixar Ball can be seen in Frida Kahlo's art studio.
- One of the participators during the "Battle of the Bands" scene resembles Skrillex. He also wears the same shirt that Sid Phillips wears.
- As a hint to Pixar's next film, Incredibles 2, a poster of the Parr family as skeletons (with the Incredibles 2 logo) appears in the Plaza de la Cruz.
- The conductor during De la Cruz's Sunrise Spectacular is a caricature of Michael Giacchino.
- Robinson, Joanna (March 15, 2017). "Pixar Unveils Dazzling Land of the Dead in New Coco Trailer". Vanity Fair.
- Unkrich, L.; Molina, Ad.; Lasseter, J. (October 10, 2017). The Art of Coco. Chronicle Books, page 92.
- Del Valle, Luis (June 8, 2017). "24 Secretos que Pixar nos contó sobre 'Coco'" (Article) (Spanish). BuzzFeed. Retrieved on June 10, 2017.
- "Exclusive: Meet Pepita Alebrijes Pixar Coco". Remezcla (August 26, 2017).
- Unkrich, Lee (December 4, 2017). "Anyone who needs one gets one." (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (November 30, 2017). "Age they passed away." (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, Lee (December 15, 2017). "Absolutely! (And we never say "blood relative") #AskAboutPixarCoco (reply to @heyemily1331 For Miguel's story he needed a blessing from his blood relatives to go home but I'm guessing as long as you mutually think of each other as family it works fine (ie families with adopted children/foster kids) because family can be defined in many ways?? #AskAboutPixarCoco)" (Tweet). Twitter.
- Unkrich, L.; Molina, Ad.; Lasseter, J. (October 10, 2017). The Art of Coco. Chronicle Books, page 166.
- Hidalgo, Sergio (August 4, 2017). "El día de muertos inicia en el nuevo tráiler de Coco… y llega con cameos de ídolos mexicanos" (Article) (Spanish). Código Espagueti. Retrieved on August 5, 2017.