'Pixar's got me thinking -- what makes a good holiday movie?'


In this column, I discuss everybody's favorite storytelling genre: the holiday story:

Next week, Pixar will release the studio's new film "Coco," a film I've been thinking about a lot since seeing an advance screening -- not just because I have thought about Pixar nonstop every day since I was 12, but specifically, because the film has got me thinking about the limitations (and also deep potential) inherent in a particular cinematic genre: the holiday movie.

"Coco" is inspired by a holiday that I don't personally follow -- Mexico's Dia de los Muertos -- and the film both borrows from and contributes to the mythology of the day.

At a press event earlier this year, director Lee Unkrich (an outsider to the holiday himself) discussed having to invent aspects of the world that the holiday didn't explicitly lay out -- for instance, a set design that includes towers marking the progress of time from generation to generation as they reach to the sky in the Land of the Dead.

"We just tried to come up with a logic for why everything was the way it was," Unkrich said. "I think you have to kind of do that."

As a Christmas celebrator, I've always enjoyed when a movie creatively expands upon the mythology of the day. It's usually the Santa mythology that gets riffed on. Somehow the part about infant Jesus doesn't usually get played with, which I say is a shame. I'd love to see filmmakers explain immaculate conception or eternal forgiveness of sin the way Tim Allen's "The Santa Clause" rationalizes the concept of sleigh-flight with modern technology, for example. (Though, I've sat through Mormon seminary classes that have applied a similar creative logic to explain those things.)

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