“Coco,” a film about Dia de Muertos, family and memory, and Pixar’s second film of the year, arrives in theaters just in time for Thanksgiving. Members of the cast and creative team gathered in Beverly Hills to talk about the film’s roots, its significance for youth of the Latino community and the role of music in the film.
On the panel was director Lee Unkrich, writer/co-editor Adrian Molina, producer Darla K. Anderson, Gael Garcia Bernal (Hector), Benjamin Bratt (Ernesto de la Cruz), Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel), Edward James Olmos (Chicharron) and Alanna Ubach (Mama Imelda).
On the themes that drew the creators to the film:
Lee Unkrich: “The more that I dug in, the more that I learned about how central family is to this celebration, and that Dia de Mortos is, you know, is all about this obligation that we all have to remember our loved ones, and to pass their stories along. And I just really started to see the potential to tell a unique story, to tell a story that could only be told in animation, that could be visually dazzling, but also had the potential to have a real emotional core to it.”
Adrian Molina: “It[‘s] just one of those ideas that ticked off so many things, or checked off the boxes of so many things that I’ve always wanted to see in a film – that it deals so strongly with this idea of family, Miguel and his musical passion, and especially the expression of these Mexican traditions…. The way we work at Pixar, it’s such a collaborative effort, and to be able to work with all of these actors, all of these musicians, and to really bring to life this culture on screen was something that I was thrilled by.”
On bringing a cast of skeletons to life through vocal performance:
Benjamin Bratt: “The first inspiration you draw from is the image that they create…. So with just this to work with, you have to pull on all kinds of other things. So I start with the images they created. And clearly, this guy, even in a skeleton form, he’s got swagger, you know. So – so it’s easy to kind of adopt that idea, principally. But beyond that, Lee, and Adrian, and Darla pointed me in the direction of studying some of the movie clips of Pedro Infante, and Jorge Negrete. These were film stars, and music stars, in the equivalent strata of someone like Frank Sinatra.”
Edward James Olmos: “And you know, nobody – you know, they told me the story, but they never gave me any of the information that the story really projected, other than the fact that this young boy wanted to be a singer, and his family wasn’t supporting him, and he ends up inside of this world…. And as it went along, and I – then my part came in, and I said, “Oh, my God,” I emotionally – I felt emotional for this guy. And Chicharron became, within a matter of a minute and a half to two minutes, became someone that I could identify with, you know – a relative, a friend, a person.”
Anthony Gonzalez: “Well, when I knew that I was gonna sing that day in the booth, I would get so excited, because you know, I love to sing, and especially these wonderful songs that Adrian Molina, Germaine Franco, and other people made – they’re just, they’re just incredible messages…. And for me, my grandfather passed away when I was six years old, and he was very special to me because he would always support me in my music career. And so yeah, every time I would come to sing like, songs, it would remind me of him, and it would make me feel like he was there, and he was present with me.”
On the impact that they hope “Coco” has on Latino youth:
Gael Garcia Bernal: “I mean, if I have to do a very personal dedication, this film is for the kids, the Latino kids growing in the United States, because in the official narrative, it’s been said that their parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents are rapists, murderers, drug traffickers…. And this film … it’s gonna give kids a way to feel confident of where they come from, of where their parents, great-grandparents, grandparents come from, to know that they come from a very sophisticated culture, and to know that they have the possibility to always have access to that hive … of life, and that they can come up with new answers to what’s needed in life that we, as humanity, need right now.”
“Coco” comes to theaters Nov. 22.