How Pixar’s Coco Fits the Pixar Theory


“I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”



If you haven’t gone to see Pixar’s Coco yet, you’re missing a fantastic odyssey that begins with a boy’s childhood dream, but ends in a family’s legacy. Coco is the latest installment in Pixar’s library of films that are wonderful stand-alone films, but when you look harder and have some imagination, the Pixar universe opens into an expansive narrative of the human condition. *Movie spoilers*

If you have never heard of the Pixar Theory, it was first proposed by Jon Negroni. It chronologically pastes each film together to make one large story. In the theory three different groups are entangled within a power struggle; humans, animals and artificial intelligence. It begins with The Good Dinosaur which shows that the asteroid does not hit Earth, causing the Pixar Universe to be different than the Earth we have.

Next is Brave. Merida seeks a way to change her fate and goes to a witch for help. It could help explain how animals can have human characteristics. Other than the dinosaurs. The queen is not the only one who is changed. We see that the consequences for Marduk, having no other contact with humans, is that he remained a bear and knew nothing about being a human.

Throughout the Pixar Universe, animals increasingly become more self-aware and intelligent. We see this with Remy in Ratatouille as he is able to cook, which is a human characteristic. By the end of the film, we find out that he is so good at cooking that he may be better than even some humans. We also see intelligence beginning to grow in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, where the sea creatures have gained the capability to not only traverse the ocean to rescue Nemo from humans, but they have set up actual schools for their children to attend, thus, growing their cognitive abilities.

Since animals are growing smarter, they would have to have some sort of technology to bridge the gap between themselves and humans. This is when we get the first artificial intelligence in the form of dog collars. We see in Up that Charles Munz created a technology that allows for his dogs to communicate verbally with humans. Although it doesn’t always work correctly, the technology is available, and like all technology, it always gets improved. Also in Up, we are introduced to the Buy n Large corporation (BnL Corp). It is the same corporation that powers the batteries in Buzz from Toy Story 3 and it is the corporation that assumes control of the planet, its inhabitants and governments in Wall-E.

Not only are the animals getting smarter, but the humans are as well. We see this in The Incredibles. Syndrome creates an artificial intelligence, the Omnidroid, “that got so smart it wondered why it had to take orders from humans.” It defeats the Supers with ease, and this is when Artificial Intelligence becomes a major piece of the Pixar Universe.

Even though the Omnidroid is destroyed, the A.I. is still there and we see its growth in Toy Story 1, 2 and 3. We see the toys getting upset with how they are treated by humans and plot to do something about it. In Toy Story the toys go after Sid. In Toy Story 2, Jessie is upset with her former owner for abandoning her and in Toy Story 3, Lotso can’t stand humans at all. We don’t see an all-out uprising by the A.I. against humans because we see that they lose their power when they have no more human contact. The A.I. needs humans as much as humans need the machines.

The A.I. wants to remain in control, so BnL Corp gets stronger and stronger. However, with the expansion of factories for BnL Corp, pollution increases. It increases to the point where it essentially destroys Earth and humans flee to space in order to survive. There is not another animal on Earth for hundreds of years. All that is left are Cars. But because there are no humans, the A.I. doesn’t get the fuel it needs and there is an energy crisis. They try to substitute, with Allinol, which we find out is really bad for the cars. (Also, ‘by and large’ and ‘all in all’ mean the same thing.) Since there are no humans, they eventually run out of fuel and Earth is left with Wall-E.

What is left of the human race is on a spaceship called the Axium. The A.I. on the ship had been so displeased with humans that it self-corrected too far and began treating the humans like toys. While humans in space are getting endless attention, Wall-E is the only robot on Earth that is left. Why is this when the other robots are solar powered just like him? Wall-E has a fascination with humans. He collects artifacts and watches Hello, Dolly. He even has a pet cockroach that he plays with.

After the humans come back to Earth, we see that Wall-E plants the tree which grows large. It lives a very long time. Long enough for life to begin again: bugs! In A Bug’s Life we see that these bugs are more cognitively intelligent than the bugs that used to inhabit Earth. They have invented things and built cities. Eventually the next species evolves: monsters. There isn’t enough evidence to say whether the humans themselves evolved from the radioactive planet or if the animals somehow mated with the humans to form the monsters (maybe not such a big deal since animals were getting smarter).  

We see in Monsters, Inc. that the year is 1313, which could indicate that they restarted the calendar system and it is 1300 years after Wall-E. Since there are no humans again, the monsters find themselves in an energy crisis. Because there are no humans in their ‘world’ they need to collect the screams of children going through closet doors into some sort of alternate reality. However, instead of an alternate reality, the doors are actually transporting the monsters back in time to when humans existed.

This fact is important when it comes to Boo. She wants to see Sully so bad. Eventually he does visit her again, but now she is aware of what is going on. According to the theory, she goes through her life trying everything she can think of to get back to Sully and Mike until one day she finds magic. She crafts her magic, pulling inspiration from the time-traveling doors of Monsters, Inc. and uses them to transport herself to the dark ages of Scotland. Boo is the witch.

So how does Coco fit into the Pixar Theory, you ask? There is one more Pixar movie to explain first before we can answer that question. Through Inside Out’s Riley we get to see how the human brain works. As she grows we can see how the emotions help control who she is and who she ultimately becomes. Riley creates Bing Bong; her imaginary friend who is very real to her. She is essentially held hostage by Joy who won’t let any of the other emotions lead. However by the end of the movie, sadness claims a part of the core memories. When a memory orb is forgotten, it disintegrates into a stream of light and then crumbles into non existence. When she forgets Bing Bong, he too, does the same. This is where Coco comes into the theory.

Memories. They are powerful things. According to Coco, when someone has passed over into the land of the dead, they remain alive until the last person who remembers them finally forgets (or dies themselves).  When someone is forgotten, they disappear the same way Bing Bong does. Each movie Pixar has brought us gives us a look at how memories shape us as humans.

In Up, Carl’s memories of Ellie hinder him until she speaks to him via the memory book, Arlo is tortured by the loss of his father and the uncertainty of who he is until the ‘ghost’ of his father tells him that he “is [him] and more.” In the Toy Story movies, toys lose ‘life’ when they are forgotten, Dory is essentially memory loss embodied (her parents may as well not ‘exist’ until she remembers them). In The Incredibles, Bob Parr is afraid that Mr. Incredible will stop existing if he is forgotten. And in Brave, Boo’s memories of Sully that keep her going creates all of this.

Coco reminds us that these memories are so important that they have built a way for their passed family members to come back. So long as a living person has a memory orb with one memory of their relative, that relative is allowed to ‘live’ in the land of the dead. Although our emotions are important, keeping our memories alive of the people who made us who we are are special and should be preserved as long as possible.

Because if they aren’t, we might all end up as radioactive monsters.

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