Several years ago, when Disney tried to trademark the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), political cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz was one of the most vocal critics. That’s why it came as a surprise to many when news broke this week that Pixar, which is owned by Disney, hired Alcaraz to work on its animated film “Coco” that’s centered on the Mexican holiday.
The film, scheduled to release in 2017, is about a 12-year-old boy named Miguel who, according to filmmakers, goes on a magical journey to find out “where he comes from, what his place is within his family, and how families stay woven together across time through the simple act of remembrance.” It comes a year after 20th Century Fox released its animated Day of the Dead-themed film “The Book of Life.”
A spokesperson for Pixar told NBC News that Alcaraz was hired as a consultant for the film, but declined to make Alcaraz available for an interview.
Alcaraz took to Twitter on Sunday to announce his new role: “ESPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: I am on the team creating the new Pixar Day of the Dead movie titled ‘Coco.’”
The acclaimed Los Angeles-based political cartoonist has been drawing editorial cartoons for the L.A. Weekly since 1992. He’s also the creator of the first nationally syndicated Latino-themed political daily comic strip called “La Cucaracha.” His work has appeared in numerous publications.
A few years ago, Alcaraz signed on as a writer on the FOX comedy show “Bordertown.” The show centers on the daily lives of two neighbors, Bud Buckwald and Ernesto Gonzales, who live in a fictitious desert town near the Mexico border.
Reaction from his followers regarding his new role with “Coco” has mostly been positive and encouraging.
One person said on Twitter that Disney “heard our anger” regarding its attempt to trademark Day of the Dead and “responded correctly in hiring a great talent.” Another tweeted that Alcaraz has “put in time, dedication and hard work into this” and that people “should celebrate not hate.”
But some questioned why Alcaraz decided to work with Disney after criticizing the company in the past, referring to him as a sell-out and a “Tío Taco,” which is equivalent of the derogatory slur “Uncle Tom.”
They recalled that in 2013 Alcaraz responded to Disney’s attempt to trademark the Day of the Dead by sketching a movie poster of a skeletal Godzilla-sized Mickey Mouse and naming it Muerto Mouse. At the top of the poster he wrote: “It’s coming to trademark your cultura.”
Long before Muerto Mouse, in 1994, Alcaraz published a book of political cartoons titled “Migra Mouse: Political Cartoons on Immigration.” On the front cover was Mickey Mouse dressed in a Border Patrol uniform. Alcaraz created Migra Mouse to call out Disney for supporting then-Gov. Pete Wilson, who championed a law known as Proposition 187 that sought to ban most public services to undocumented immigrants.
Alcaraz has responded to the criticism of his Pixar work by saying he is “a Chicano artist” who wants to ensure “Coco” reflects the true meaning behind the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday. He also said he hopes to “consult on the story and the look” of the film.
“These movies are being made with or without our input,” he said on Twitter, referring to films that reflect the Mexican-American culture. “I believe it’s better to have input, don’t you?