I was honored to be invited to the #PixarCocoEvent, a Disney press junket for Disney Pixar COCO, Big Hero 6 Baymak Returns, Kevin (Probably) Saves the World, Designated Survivor, and Olaf’s Frozen Adventure. As a guest, my expenses were covered in return for a series of articles about my experiences and reviews of the programming.
By now I hope you have been enjoying my series of stories about Disney Pixar Coco through my #PixarCocoEvent series. I’ve shared with you about the technical side of Disney Pixar COCO, how they created the wonderful artwork on the screen, how the characters were animated, and how the research was done to make COCO authentic. I’ve introduced you to the actors behind the characters, their personal stories, their connection to the film, and more. Today’s focus is my interview with COCO Director Lee Unkrich, Writer & Co-Director Adrian Molina and Producer Darla K. Anderson. During both press junkets for Disney Pixar COCO, myself and the other Disney bloggers met with them frequently. Through those meetings, one thing was very clear… their intentions and motivations behind creating COCO, was to create a movie that would stand the test of time and become a love letter to Mexico from Disney Pixar. I’m so honored to share what they shared with us in my story below.
About Disney Pixar’s COCO
Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
“COCO” was released in U.S. theaters on November 22, 2017 and is now playing in theaters.
Take a look at the making of the Disney Pixar COCO movie in this video.
Coco, a Love Letter to Mexico From Disney Pixar
What makes COCO a love letter to Mexico from Disney Pixar is all the thought, emotion, and planning that went into creating a movie that not only pays homage to Mexico and its cultures but also introduces us to those cultures in a way we all can appreciate and love. Take a look at some of the ways Director Lee Unkrich, Writer & Co-Director Adrian Molina and Producer Darla K. Anderson worked together to do that from choosing the characters to hiring the cast from introducing us to the Day of the Dead to the closing credits of Disney Pixar COCO.
It all starts with a feeling Lee says, “…I like making you feel something. When I go and see movies, they’re very few and far between where I actually feel genuine emotion or a movie really sticks with me after I’ve seen it. When we make our movies we try to do that. … That’s the most satisfying for us if we can have the audience feel something personal to themselves. We know we’re on the right track when we have those feelings ourselves.”
Darla added, “…In order to feel all those feelings you’ve had to go on a journey with all of our characters, and you’ve had to laugh with them and be on a big adventure with them, and become completely invested with them.” Watching COCO you can’t help but feel invested in these characters.
The cast of Disney Pixar COCO is an entire cast of Latino actors and actresses.
Lee stated that when it came to whether or not the cast would be Latino, “It was non-negotiable. I mean, we knew we had to put John Ratzenberger in the movie. …It was very important to us, and… because it was the right thing to do. I mean it would have been very strange to, not to.”
Mexican celebrities as skeletons
The idea of having Latinos play the characters even influenced how the skeletons were created in the Land of the Dead. Look closely and you may recognize many Mexican celebrities in the faces and personalities of the skeletons. Lee started in the explanation of this,”We tried to fill the film with as many kind of famous Mexican celebrities as we could. Some of which we knew would be recognizable for general audiences, but some we knew would only be, [recognizable] to people who grew up in Mexico. People like Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete and Cantinflas, Maria Felix, El Santo of course, Esquivel… Juan Carlos Esquivel is the guy who’s playing the glass harmonica [made from a set of glasses] before the talent show.”
Adrian added by sharing the motivation to having Mexican celebrities as skeletons. He said, “So much of that was inspired by the fact that we’ve got this once in a lifetime opportunity to have characters literally go into history, and Miguel is this kid who wants so much to use his music to connect, but he doesn’t have the role models to be able to help him on that path. What a wonderful opportunity to lean on these Mexican icons who used their art to change the world, and let them be the kind of characters that kind of inspire him and push him.”
Lee went on to explain how by having Mexican celebrities as skeletons he hoped it would add to the timelessness of COCO, “We were always striving to make a film that felt kind of timeless. … I’m hoping that it will always feel like it’s kinda set now. No matter when people see it. I remember when I was a kid after school watching Warner Brothers cartoons, like Bugs Bunny, and every once in a while one would pop up that would be full of people I didn’t recognize. They’d have like a scene in a bar and there’d be Edward G. Robinson and a lot of movie stars from that time. I didn’t know who they were, but I knew they were somebody famous at some time. It just felt that doing this in this film also felt like a little nod to kind of the history of animation in having kind of caricatured cameos of well-known people.
Yes, members of the Disney Pixar Coco team make it into Disney Pixar COCO with cameos.
Adrian told us, “There are only two cameos of actual living people in the film. One is Michael Giacchino, and the other is our music consultant, Camilo Lara, who plays the Dj at [Ernesto de la Cruz’s] party.” Lee added, But Adrian and I both have a line in the movie. I always like to have a cameo, not physically, but just my voice. So, I’m the guy who says, what did I miss at the end.” Adrian responded, And then, after Miguel takes the guitar and the light comes in on the window, I’m the – ‘the guitar, it’s gone'”.
Learning through research and putting the research into COCO
I shared in this article, What Makes Disney Pixar Coco so Special? how much research went into the making of Disney Pixar COCO. During this follow up interview, Lee described how something he learned about Day of the Dead affected him. “I knew a fair amount about the tradition before I started this, but I then learned more in the course of making [COCO]. One thing that I didn’t know, that we learned early on is this belief that we’re all capable of dying multiple deaths. The actual belief is that we all die the first time when our heart stops. Then we die kind of a second time when we’re buried and no one can ever see us again. But then there was this idea of this third and final death, when there’s nobody left among the living who remembers us and who can tell our stories. .. That was a whole notion that I had never heard of before diving into this. Once we all heard it, it just was clear to us that it was incredibly poignant and needed to be an important part of the story that we were telling. It took some time, but ultimately that notion ended up becoming the bedrock of the story.”
The digital ofrenda after the credits
If your kids will be patient it’s worth staying till after the credit roll to see the digital ofendra that the Disney Pixar COCO team created. Lee informed us how that idea got started, “I had an idea at some point that I thought it would be lovely to do some sort of digital ofrenda at the end of the film because we had learned so much about the traditions and we had incorporated them into our lives at Pixar. For the second year now we’ve created a big ofrenda in the atrium of Pixar. We’ve invited everyone in the company to bring in photos of their loved ones to put on the ofrenda. I just had this thought, wouldn’t it be lovely to kind of thank all the people that supported us, and continue to support us across time. We ended up extending the opportunity to everyone in the company to submit a photo of somebody who they had lost who was important to them and we did that. My grandmother is in there.”
Others you will see in the digital ofrenda include Darla’s mom, Adrian’s grandparents, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Don Rickles, and more.
Lee says, “I regret that it’s at the end of the credits because I think that a lot of people won’t see it because a lot of people don’t stay for credits. But for the people who do, I think it will be very meaningful for them, and it’s very meaningful for us. It’s a very personal reflection of thanks to everyone who’s been there for us.”
Opening Disney Pixar COCO FIRST in Mexico
Coco premiered in Mexico prior to Dia de la Muertos and before premiering in the United States. Adrian, Lee, and Darla all shared why that was important to them and the response from doing so.
Darla stared first by confirming that is was important to them to which Adrian added, “We try to talk as much as we can about how much research that we did on this film and part of the effect that that research had on us wasn’t just on the story. It was the fact that we were meeting these families and we were making these friends, and we were collaborating with artists all over Mexico. The least we could do [was] to pay homage to the beauty of the tradition and the place where they came from. We were just over the moon to have the opportunity to premiere in Mexico, especially in Mexico City at the Palace of Fine Arts. It’s like, who gets that opportunity, and the level of love and engagement from that audience and from the country ever since.” Lee jumped in, It’s been a little overwhelming.” Adrian added, “It’s been very overwhelming in the most beautiful way. But it just felt like all we could do to say thank you so much for opening your hearts, opening the doors, and maybe a gesture on our part to say what a beautiful tradition, this is where it comes from everyone, take notice.”
With that, I hope you will take notice of the beauty, culture, and traditions of Mexico represented in Disney Pixar COCO.
Watch Disney Pixar COCO now playing at your local theater!
- Learn more about Animating Disney Pixar COCO in these articles
- What Makes Disney Pixar Coco so Special? #PixarCocoEvent
- Bringing the Disney Pixar Coco Skeletons to Life through Technology, Crafts, and Jokes
- Bringing Mexican Folk Art to Disney Pixar COCO with Alebrijes
- Coming soon, Wednesday, 11/29 my story sharing the significance of “The Music of COCO”
- Get to know the talent behind Disney Pixar COCO with these Interviews with the cast and producers
- My COCO Benjamin Bratt (voice of “Ernesto de la Cruz”) interview
- My Gael Garcia Bernal (voice of “Hector”) interview
- My interview with Anthony Gonzalez (voice of “Miguel”) and Alanna Ubach (voice of “Mamá Imelda”)
- Thursday, 11/30 my COCO Edward James Olmos (voice of “Chicharron”) interview
Our #PixarCocoEvent series continues tomorrow with my story sharing the significance of “The Music of COCO”. You can get caught up with our #PixarCocoEvent series anytime by clicking on #PixarCocoEvent.
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