Disney Tried To Trademark An Entire Holiday

By Zack Zagranis | Published

Disney box office

Remember the time Disney tried to trademark a Mexican holiday, causing outrage in the USA’s Mexican-American community? Yeah, that wasn’t a late-stage capitalism-induced fever dream. It really happened.

Disney Attempted To Trademark Dia De Los Muertos

Back in 2013, when Pixar was first developing the movie that would later become Coco (2017), the working title for the film was Dia de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead. The name sounds cool and all, but there was one problem: Dia de los Muertos was already the name of a Mexican holiday. Disney’s solution? Trademark the holiday for their own use.

While it would seem like the best course of action would be just to change the name of the movie, Disney thought trademarking a whole holiday would be easier somehow. Narrator voice: it wasn’t.

The Effort Sought To Secure The Name To What Eventually Became Coco

In an effort to get a lock on all of the various merchandise that is produced for Dia de los Muertos every year, Disney tried to legally claim ownership of a celebration that has existed in one form or another for some 3,000 years. Their bid to trademark Dia de los Muertos failed spectacularly of course. Try and imagine Mickey Mouse sending you a cease and desist letter for mentioning the word “Christmas” on Facebook, and you can understand what a ridiculous concept it is for Disney to own the rights to a holiday.

The House Of Mouse Wanted Complete Control Over The Holiday

In its trademark applications, Disney requested exclusive rights over all Dia de los Muertos goods, including “fruit-based snack foods”, “Christmas-tree ornaments and decorations”, “decorative magnets”, “non-medicated toiletries,” and even “frozen meals consisting primarily of pasta or rice.” In addition, Disney demanded the sole right to use Dia de los Muertos for “education and entertainment purposes.” Unsurprisingly, this sparked outrage from Mexican-Americans all over the US.

Dia De Los Muertos Dates Back Thousands Of Years

To the Mexican-American community, the Dia de los Muertos festival is a popular, colorful celebration of deceased ancestors and an occasion to pay them respect. A combination of the Roman Catholic All Souls’ Day and indigenous Mexican beliefs and practices, Dia de los Muertos is often a period for families to decorate the graves of relatives and build elaborate shrines in their homes. What it’s not is a commodity to be trademarked, branded, and sold for profit by one of the world’s largest entertainment conglomerates.

After Extensive Backlash, Disney’s Attempts To Trademark The Holiday Failed

DIsney teacher

Disney’s callous attempt to monetize the holiday for their own use drew the ire of Mexican-American cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz who in turn drew a satirical film poster titled Muerto Mouse that depicted a kaiju-sized Mickey Mouse skeleton with the tagline, “It’s coming to trademark your cultura!” Alcaraz also posted on what was 10 years ago still known as Twitter, “On the offensiveness scale, it seems awful and crass, as the words ‘Dia de Los Muertos’ aren’t just some brand name but a holiday.”

Elsewhere, more than 21,000 people signed a Change.org petition citing Disney’s attempts to trademark the holiday as “cultural appropriation” and called it “exploitation at its worst!”

Disney Responds And Changes The Movie Name To Coco

Eventually, Disney issued a statement declaring that they had decided to change the title of their Day of the Dead-themed Pixar movie to Coco and, as a result, would no longer pursue the trademark for Dia de los Muertos. In the statement, Disney claimed their trademark filing was “intended to protect any potential title for our film and related activities.”

With a history of many such skeevey business practices, it’s hard to look at everything Disney is going through currently including the fall of the once mighty MCU as anything other than karma.