Creating this love letter to Mexico was really important to the film crew. This movie reaffirms how much they love and appreciate the Mexican culture and the people and the traditions that come from the beautiful country.” – Adrian Molina, Director
Disney/Pixar’s latest animation COCO is an adventure that centers on the Day of the Dead or in Spanish, Día de los Muertos. Coco stars a young boy named Miguel who has a big dream of becoming a musician. But he has a bigger problem that will keep him from pursuing his dreams- music is banned by his family because they believe it is a curse! I recently visited Pixar to learn about the world of Coco. Animation is a beautiful form of storytelling and Pixar really gets to flex its muscle with this film. The colors and details are stunning!
Over the years, I’ve become extremely interested in the holiday Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead is a wonderful tradition celebrating loved ones who have passed. My parents died many years and to be honest, I had an extremely difficult time accepting my mom’s death. I heavily grieved her but since learning about Day of the Dead, I was moved by how Mexican families remember their loved ones and that it is a happy occasion versus a somber one. I was inspired to honor my mother by remembering the things I loved about her and her kind and giving spirit. I was thrilled to receive an invite to the Coco exclusive event to hear from the filmmakers on the writing and creative process. Filmmakers Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina, Darla K. Anderson shared interesting information about the film such as where the name Coco come from, their research process and more.
Here are my favorite facts from the press conference:
The filmmakers are excited to have the new Olaf’s Frozen Adventure open for COCO. They’ve watched the featurette and were pleasantly surprised by how the films fit together. Both films deals a lot with family connections, family ideas as well as traditions and themes.
Why did they name the movie COCO? The name of the movie adds a certain mystery to it. Moviegoers will go into a theatre not quite knowing what it means or who it is but very early on it is discovered that Coco is Miguel’s great grandmother. Coco seems to play a minor role in the story but the filmmakers told us but that Coco earns and deserves having the movie named after her. She is the connection to family and remembrance. She’s the oldest person in this family and is the keeper of her family’s stories and the keeper of memories. The filmmakers thought she symbolized the spirit of the themes of the film.
Did their research trips to Mexico change how they saw the holiday or the culture? Lee Unkrick said that he thought he had an understanding of what Día de los Muertos was all about but once they started travelling down to Mexico and met the experts that they worked with, he was surprised at how differently it’s celebrated in all different parts of Mexico. Different traditions are found in different parts of Mexico, within small regions, from town to town. The filmmakers agreed that they all know a lot more now than I did when they initially started this journey.
Besides love, family and friendship what other components were included in the movie to make it more universal? The film is about family, first and foremost. The idea of family and tradition is 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 following what your family thinks is best for you. That’s something people can relate to.
Many Pixar directors ask their creative teams to look at other movies for inspiration. What films did they look at? They tried to find prototypical films that tell stories that share some thematic elements such as Billy Elliot and a film called Under the Same Moon as well as Whale Rider. They also looked at stories about kids that find themselves in situations where their family doesn’t quite accept them and they’ve got a burning dream. They researched dozens of films for visual reference and inspiration. This was all in addition to the inspiration that came from all the research they we did.
Where does Book of Life fit into this? Lee shared that they were already way under way with this film before they were even aware Book of Life. He was happy that it came out a few years before Coco and that they had the opportunity to see it and make sure that they were telling a story that was unique and different. He’s confident that Coco is a completely different story and loves that there are multiple stories set in the same culture. The filmmakers have gotten to be good friends with Jorge Gutierrez who directed Book of Life and were supportive of his film and Gutierrez has been very supportive of Coco.
Were there different angles that they considered telling the story from? They had a whole different story that they developed before they settled on this story. They pursued the initial story for a little while where the main character was dealing with his own grief and letting go of the grief that he had over somebody who passed away. They realized after pursuing that story for a while that it was a heavy but also it was the antithesis of what Día de los Muertos is all about. Lee shared more on the tradition, “Día 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 was originally developed was more of a western American perspective on grief and so we realized that we needed to kind of build our story from the inside and really embrace the values and the traditions that Día 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 and that’s what so we completely ripped everything down to the studs and started over and came up with the beginnings of what became Coco.”
Adrian summed up what this film means to them. “Creating this love letter to Mexico was really important to the film crew. This movie reaffirms how much they love and appreciate the Mexican culture and the people and the traditions that come from the beautiful country.”
COCO is in theaters November 22, 2017