I was honored to be invited to the #PixarCocoEvent, a Disney Pixar press junket for Disney Pixar Coco and THE LION KING Blu-ray/Digital HD release. As a guest, my expenses were covered in return for a series of articles about my experiences.
Earlier this August, I had the honor of sitting down with the team behind Disney Pixar Coco. It was a fascinating few days of sit down discussions that included a preview of part of the Disney Pixar Coco movie, a make and take craft session, and workshops that focused on different aspects of this new Pixar film that pays tribute to Día de los Muertos. Through all those meetings one thing became very clear Disney Pixar Coco is going to be a very special movie for all families when it hits theaters this November. In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories about:
- On September 19, 2017, I help introduce you to what is Dia de los Muertos, its history, and significance, including fun facts about the story of Coco.
- On October 2, 2017, I’ll share why skeletons are so important to the Mexican culture and how the skeletons in Coco were animated.
- On October 17, 2017, you’ll learn about Alebrijes and see photos of my own Alebrijes I made during a make-and-take session at the press junket.
- On November 2, 2017, we’ll talk about the music of Mexico and how it was so instrumental in creating the music of Coco.
- Then on November 22, 2017, we’ll celebrate with one last post to celebrate the opening day of Disney Pixar Coco.
For today, I wanted to share with you some details from the press conference with Coco director Lee Unkrich, writer and co-director Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson. I think you’ll agree that Disney Pixar Coco is going to be a special must-see family movie this fall.
Take a look at the Disney Pixar Coco movie trailer
What makes Disney Pixar Coco so special?
During our press conference with Coco director Lee Unkrich, writer and co-director Adrian Molina and producer Darla K. Anderson, I along with other reporters asked questions not only about the making of Disney Pixar Coco but also the inspiration that went into the film. So much great information came out of that press conference. I wish I could share it all here. While I can’t, I will share with you the moments and answers that made this press conference a wonderful way for me to learn how special the Disney Pixar Coco movie is.
Before there was a story there was a movie inspired by a holiday
It was interesting to hear from Lee Unkrich, that even before he had a script there was a movie. Unkrich had this idea of a movie around the idea of Dia De Los Muertos. He pitched it to John (from Pixar) back in 2011. From there John was so intrigued by the idea, Unkrich was giving the approval to move forward. Unkrich said,
“It 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. This first story that we developed was completely different than what we ended up doing with Coco but John just was really excited about the notion of setting a story in this world. It felt unique to him.”
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.
The messages of the Disney Pixar Coco movie
At the core of Disney Pixar Coco movie is this idea of family. While we may have only seen 30 minutes of the Coco, we could see how important it is for Miguel’s family to be close as well as remember family members who are no longer with them. The team during the Disney Pixar Coco press conference shared the following messages with us that they wanted to be incorporated into the film.
Adrian Molina started, “It’s definitely about family, almost first and foremost the idea of family and tradition is going to be infused in the film but it’s also very much a film about following your passions and making choices in life and pursuing dreams versus just saying what your family wants for you or what they think is best for you.”
Lee Unkrich added talking about the team at Pixar and relating it to the story of Miguel in Coco. “A lot of the people who work at Pixar are artists and some of them are like me where they come from families that really support that and always said you can do this, go for it, we support you. But then a lot of them also came from situations where art was an impractical career path or maybe geographically it took them far away from their family and people had to make decisions about and reconcile with their families if this something that they could support. I think being able to chart your own path in the context of wanting to be connected to your family is something that is very universal across cultures.”
Darla Anderson rounded out the response stating what a lot of us look for in movies, “Lastly this film like all of our films we want to 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.”
How Coco is the title of the Disney Pixar Coco film
It had us all curious. Why is a movie that ‘seems’ so heavily focused on Miguel named Coco? Unkrich and Adrian both shared answers,
Unkrich said, “…this title it was kind of our working title for a while and there’s a certain mystery to it. You go into a theatre and you don’t quite know what it means or who it is but 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.”
Adrian added, “And 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.” The rest is a secret, for now. ;-)
How the Coco directors decided to tell Miguel’s story
I read a number of children’s books about Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) in preparation for my #PixarCocoEvent press junket. It became clear to me that there are a number of ways a storyteller could create a story about Dia de los Muertos. I was curious what inspired this story angle and if there were others the directors and producers considered. When I asked the question Unkrich was thoughtful in his answer.
“Well I can tell you one little interesting tidbit which is why I mentioned that we had a whole different story that we developed before we settled on this story. That was interesting because that story which we pursued for a little while ended up there was a kid as the main character. But it ended up being a story about him dealing with his own grief and letting go of the grief that he had over somebody who had passed away. We realized after we’d been pursuing that story for a while that A, it was a bit heavy but also B, it was kind of the antithesis of what Dia De Los Muertos is all about.”
Unkrich continued, “I mean Dia De Los Muertos is about never forgetting. It’s about having this obligation to remember those who came before us and to pass their stories along and the story that we were originally developing was more of a western American kind of a perspective on grief. We realized that we needed to kind of build our story from the inside and really embrace the values and the traditions that Dia De Los Muertos as well as embrace the story that was not about death or dealing with death but was about life and was about family. That’s why we completely ripped everything down to the studs and started over and came up with the beginnings of what became Coco.”
Making a movie that’s authentic to the culture
Through our sessions and interviews, it became very obvious that the creators of the Disney Pixar Coco movie wanted to be very authentic to Mexico. Adrian Molina even said, “We wanted to approach this film with… in its very origination came from a love of Mexico and a real kind of affinity for the people and the culture.” As we mentioned earlier even without a storyline the team was given authority to move ahead with the planning. Within weeks of that approval, the team visited Mexico, arriving just a few weeks before Dia De Los Muertos, to embrace the culture and learn as much as they could.
Adrian Molina talked about how his own mom was very integral to getting all the facts straight. “She likes it as a reason to get a phone call. As we’re writing the film we wanted to infuse some of the language into the storytelling because that’s so much a part of the culture. As a screenwriter [we have to decide] when to use Spanish and when to use English. We wanted to try to use Spanish anytime where the meaning is kind of evident and even if you don’t speak the language you understand. Then also part of the process is working with our team in Mexico just to double and triple check all the language.”
Unkrich shared how they worked to keep even the signage in Coco authentic. “We made a choice early on that any and all signage the words would be in Spanish unless it was something where there was storytelling involved in that moment. In that case, those shots will be translated into different languages all over the world but because the bulk of it takes place in Mexico and it’s a Spanish speaking nation we wanted to have that authenticity.”
Anderson also commented on how their partnership with Disney helps. “We were so fortunate to work with Disney who has lots of folks who helped us make sure that we were getting it just right and consultants. The film was constantly evolving. A big part of the job of this film was just constantly checking and double checking.
That Disney Pixar Coco is NOT the same movie as The Book of Life
There are not a lot of family friendly movies about the Hispanic culture, especially ones about the Land of the Dead. It’s only natural that there would be questions about the differences between the Disney Pixar Coco movie and The Book of Life movie. We did discuss that during the Disney Pixar Coco press conference.
Unkrich explained about the timing and presumed similarities, “In terms of Book of Life we were already way under way with this film before we were even aware that was happening. I was happy that it came out a few years before us and that we had the opportunity to see it and make sure that we were telling a story that was unique and different. I would have been much more nervous if we were coming out at the same time and I didn’t know anything about it. We’re confident that our film is a completely different story. I think it’s great that there are multiple stories kind of set in the same culture. We’ve since gotten to be good friends with Jorge Gutierrez who directed Book of Life and we were supportive of his film and he’s been very supportive of our film.
The secrets in the Disney Pixar Coco movie that will have you watching it over and over
Unkrich shared with us that the Disney Pixar Coco movie is the most elaborate Pixar movie to date and Anderson agreed. There were layers of complexity to not only the effects and imagery in the movie but also within the stories of Miguel’s family and how the Mexican culture celebrates Dia de los Muertos. Sitting in on a session to learn how the Land of the Dead was lit up on screen or how to add clothes to a skeleton body so they hang correctly was amazingly intriguing. More details on that soon. It’s expected that there are going to be some secrets and of course Easter eggs in Disney Pixar Coco. One secret still under wraps, is who will be singing the Disney Pixar Coco movie soundtrack. Another is just how does grandma Coco become so important to the storyline. As far as Easter eggs in the Coco preview we saw, one of the bloggers noticed a certain pizza truck. If you are like us you’ll be watching Coco a few times this fall just to find them all.
Keep following along or click on #PixarCocoEvent to read any of the articles from our series.