“Coco”, Pixar’s first original film in two years, is the studio’s “love letter to Mexico” and unlike anything the studio has ever done before. Coco stars an all-Latino cast (Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, and newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) and is set during Dia de los Muertos, a two day holiday that takes place November 1st and 2nd, where families honor and remember loved ones who have passed on. As a Latina, specifically, a Latina of half Mexican descent, I was very excited when I heard Pixar was venturing to create something that celebrates a piece of my heritage. Dia de los Muertos has become one of our favorite holidays to celebrate, and a time where I get to teach my daughter a little piece of our culture.
But, truth be told, I was also a little fearful. With something that is as culturally specific as Dia de los Muertos is, the line between celebrating or appropriating can easily get blurry, and in today’s political climate, listening to the people who hold these traditions close to heart doesn’t always happen. After watching 35 minutes of the film, and interviewing many of the animators, story artists, story consultants, and filmmakers, I can safely put that fear to rest- I am in love!
Co-Director, Lee Unkrich, Co-Director/Writer, Adrian Molina and Producer Darla K. Anderson, sat down to talk with some bloggers and press during an early press day at Pixar Animation. Here’s what you should know about Pixar’s Coco:
Coco was initially pitched in 2011, but wasn’t full greenlit until after a research trip to Mexico
Lee Unkrich: I first pitched it the beginnings of this idea back in September of 2011. What John [Lasseter- Chief Creative Officer of Pixar] likes to do for directors that are thinking about what their next project is gonna be is he likes to have them develop and pitch three different ideas[…] There was a film that I had been developing before Toy Story 3 happened, and then another new original idea, and then this notion of doing a story set against the Dia De Los Muertos. And immediately John sparked to the Dia De Los Muertos idea[…] It was different than anything we’d done at the studio and so he, I wouldn’t say he greenlit the film, because we didn’t have a story yet, but he wanted us to forge ahead and develop that idea. So, within a couple of weeks we were all on a plane and heading down to Mexico to start our research.
The story originated from a love of Mexico, and it’s people and culture…and only grew more from there
Adrian Molina: One of the things that we wanted to approach this film with, you know, in its very origination, came from a love of Mexico, and a real kind of affinity for the people and the culture. I know on Toy Story 3, when you guys [Unkrich and Anderson] had been doing a lot of travelling, we’ve always gotten such a beautiful response to our films and such, you know, open arms in our tours. So, you know, wanting to share that love, wanting to create this love letter to Mexico that was really important to us. If anything, I think it only reaffirmed how much we love and appreciate the culture and the people and the traditions that come from the beautiful country.
Learning about culture, is ongoing, and respected throughout the filmmaking process
Unkrich: What I was surprised about, personally, is that I thought I had an understanding of what Dia De Los Muertos is all about. Once we started travelling down there, and meeting with all of the experts that we worked with, I was surprised to how differently it’s celebrated in all different parts of Mexico. Not even different parts of Mexico but within small regions from town to town you’ll find very different traditions and that was a big surprise to me. There was also just a depth and a richness of the traditions that I hadn’t been educated about prior to making the film. So I would never call myself an expert but I will say that I know a lot more now than I did when I started this journey.
On keeping culturally specific and educating, but entertaining as well
Molina: We really wanted to seep ourselves in the traditions, but we also didn’t want it to be a college lecture on what Dia De Los Muertos was, so we had to rack our brains and think really hard about how do we convey the meaning of the “oferenda” in the context of Miguel’s conflict and the story we’re telling. How do we convey the meaning of the miracle of path without having to stop the movie and give a little lesson? And, you know, that’s a challenge on any movie setting the rules, establishing your world and so it just came from a lot of conversations about we know you wanna convey these ideas in the context of this story so how do we make it entertaining. I think at the end of the day if you don’t walk away knowing precisely all the details of the traditions, you’ll have enough to see them at this action, and maybe that will inspire you to dig in to the details and do some research afterwards if it’s something that you’re really interested in.
Darla K. Anderson: This film, like all of our films, we want to just so entertain and bring audiences, immerse them in this other world and immerse them in a grand adventure and I think that’s very universal too. Go into a film and escape into a whole new world and go along this journey with our protagonist and his companion.
As far as why the film is named Coco? Well….
Unkrich: It was kind of our working title for a while and there’s a certain mystery to it. Very early on you discover that Coco is Miguel’s great-grandmother, and kind of, in the spirit of connection to family and remembrance. She’s the oldest person in this family and as such kind of the keeper of those stories and the keeper of the memories and we thought she kind of really symbolized the spirit of a lot of the themes of our film.
Molina: We also knew that people would be wondering why they named this movie after Miguel’s great grandmother because she seems to play a minor role in the story but you haven’t all seen the whole movie yet so all I’ll say is I think Coco earns and deserves having the movie named after her.
Anderson: It’s a secret.
Coco opens November 22nd.