While in Pixar Studios in San Francisco, I had the opportunity to be part of a press conference with Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina & Darla K Anderson and learn more about what the movie Coco is about.
While listening to Director Lee Unkrich, Writer and Co-Director Adrian Molina and Producer Darla K. Anderson, I learned that Coco is about family, dreams, following one’s own path and traditions.
How did the idea of Coco come to life?
Director Lee Unkrich first shared the idea of Coco with John Lasseter, Chief Creative of Pixar and Disney Animation back in September 2011.
“What John 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. Even if one of them, the director’s really passionate about things like that really could be the next film. He likes to have folks just explore a few different ideas so that they’re not just fixated on one idea and it allows him to, you know, kind of make some choices or, you know, just be involved in the process and so I pitched three different ideas one of which was an old idea that I pitched a while back.
Laseter felt that Dia De Los Muertos felt unique. Although the original Coco story was different, the idea of setting a story in this world felt exciting and unique. To develop the idea, they headed to Mexico for Dia de los Muertos on a research trip.
Why is the movie named Coco?
I know like many of you I was intrigued by the title of this movie. We learn that the boys name is Coco and his dog’s name is Dante. So, who is Coco?
Unkrich shared that it began as a working title but there is a certain mystery to it. “You are not quite sure 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.”
Writer and Co-Director Adrian Molina added: “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.”
After hearing this, I realized that this would be one of many secrets learned when Coco is released in theaters.
What difficulties were encountered during the production of Coco?
Adrian Molina shared that difficulties of Coco were trying to figure out a story and figuring out all the intricacies of pulling together. There are secrets that will be revealed but they want to make What he did find easy was working together with a great group of people.
Blending the story of Coco along with the meaning of Dia de los Muertos met with some challenges too. Molina shared that they did’t want the movie to seem like a textbook explanation of the holiday so they had to think really hard about how do we convey the meaning of the ofrenda 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?
Unkrich shared that they look for the perfect balance of still being entertaining but giving the audience kind of enough information that they need to understand what’s going on.
What did you learn about the Mexican culture on your trips to Mexico?
Molina shared that the film origination came from a love of Mexico and a real kind of affinity for the people and the culture. The trips reaffirmed how much we love and appreciate the culture and the people and the traditions that come from the beautiful country.
Unkrich thought that he had a good idea of how Dia De Los Muertos was celebrated but what he learned from his trips was how differently it is celebrated in all parts of Mexico. …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.
Besides love, family and friendship what other components in Coco make it more universal?
Molina shared the themes that are a part of Coco:
Well it’s definitely about family, almost first and foremost the idea of family and tradition is gonna 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, you know, just saying what your family wants for you or what they think is best for you and I think that’s something that a lot of people can relate to.
Anderson shared this about the audience: … 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. So I think this film has those universal qualities as well.
The directors drew inspiration from other movies where kids found themselves in situations where their family doesn’t quite accept them and their dream. Movies such as Billy Elliot, Under the Same Moon and Whale Rider are a few that do this.
What other angles were considered when telling the story of Coco?
At first, Coco was about a child dealing with grief. It was heavy and Unkrich shared that it was kind of the antithesis of what Dia De Los Muertos is all about.
I mean Dia De Los Muertos is about never forgetting. You know, 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 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 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 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.
Another secret that cannot be revealed as of yet is who will sing the pop version of the songs for the soundtrack. We know that with Disney Pixar movies, that a pop singer usually creates a version of the songs. Unkrich says we will be pleasantly surprised. Can’t wait to hear who!
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Stay tuned in the next few months to learn more about the movie Coco!
COCO opens in theaters everywhere on November 22nd!
I was invited to attend an all expense paid trip to San Francisco to Pixar Studios to be part of the #PixarCocoEvent. All thoughts and opinions are my own.