It’s official, Disney/Pixar Coco is a hit! Coco opened with a $72.9 million box office for the long holiday weekend. That is awesome! I’m so proud to have even the smallest part in promoting this beautiful film. It has truly been an honor to speak with and share with my readers the lovely, and personal conversions that took place during the Coco Press Junket in LA. And we have Director Lee Unkrich, Writer & Co-Director Adrian Molina and Producer Darla K. Anderson to thank for creating such rich, entertaining and thought provoking material that all of our families can enjoy.
We had the chance to interview COCO Director Lee Unkrich, Writer & Co-Director Adrian Molina and Producer Darla K. Anderson during the Coco press junket in LA. They were all three incredibly kind, and more than generous with their answers. Such an incredible display of talent right here – I still can not believe I have the honor to sit at the table with such amazing people. This interview was definitely a highlight of the press junket for me.
Please note that this interview may contain small spoilers.
Why do you like making us cry so much?
LU: I don’t know that I like making you cry, but I like making you feel something. I know that 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. So, when we make our movies we try to do that. There’s no guarantee that we’ll be able to, but I think, that’s the most satisfying for us if we can have the audience feel something personal to themselves and, we know we’re on the right track when we have those feelings ourselves.
It’s hard when we’re making the film over the course of six years, you’ll have an idea – like we had the idea for Miguel to sing to mama Coco. You’ve all seen the movie now, right? We had the idea to have Miguel sing to mama Coco and kind of bring her out of her dementia very early on. It was in our first screening I think, and I think we were all very effected that first time that we put it together. But, it was then years afterwards that we continued to refine the movie and change the story leading up to that point, and we had to just trust in that initial feeling that we had when we first put that scene up. And try to hold on to that and make sure that many years later when we were actually animating the scene that, it hopefully would still have the effect on other people that it had on us initially.
DA: But 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. We have to earn all of that emotion. So, it comes out of a multitude of the emotions from the movie.
On the decision to have an all Latino cast
LU: It was very important to us, and… because it was the right thing to do. It would have been very strange to not. It didn’t make casting a challenge; it definitely narrowed the options. And I’ve worked with a lot of great actors in the past, and many of the them have become my friends. Part of me felt like, I wish I could work with them again, but I knew it wasn’t going to be on this movie. So, we have new friends.
Coco premiered in Mexico. How important was that to you guys?
DA: Oh it was really important.
AM: Yeah it was, 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. And, the least we could do 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.
LU: It’s been a little overwhelming.
AM: It’s been, 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.
What is something you have learned throughout your research and making this film?
LU: Well, I knew a fair amount about the tradition before I started this, but I then learned way more, of course, in the course of making it, and one thing that I didn’t know, that we learned early on is this belief that we’re all capable of kind 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 then kind of the final death. That was whole notion that I had never heard of before diving into this. And, 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. And so, it took some time, but over time that notion end up becoming the bedrock of the story that we told, as you know, you’ve seen the film.
On the challenges of making this film
AM: There’s a lot of pieces to this story, and I think when you’re watching it the first time through, a lot of them can be hidden, and that’s by design. But there’s a very certain order to what the characters know about each other and what they say to each other, and who’s in the room when. And, it just took a lot of iteration to figure out how to put these puzzle pieces together. On top of that, there’s the fact that this is a tradition that a certain portion of the audience is going to be very familiar with, and then another very large portion is going to have no idea. And it took a while to figure out, how do we invite people in, who aren’t familiar, without slowing down too much for the people who are.
Or coming off like it’s a school lesson, and it took a while to find, but it ultimately came down to the way this tradition is transmitted is through the family. To be the one who can convey this tradition to Miguel. At the same time as doing it for the audience and that became a very natural way to get people understanding why this is important to the culture and to the family.
DA: Will you tell the story of your family when you went off to college?
AM: The thing that was very difficult about this is that in the land of the dead, we needed to create a whole set of rules that are not exactly intuitive to an audience. One of them being the idea of a blessing, and that the blessing is the way to send you home, and, so this was an idea when I started writing, I, I started suggesting in the room. Because in the first act, we always knew what Miguel really wanted was- he’s a musician and he loves his family, and all he wants is for them to give their acceptance and give their okay.
And so in the second act, why don’t we make that manifest? Why don’t we make him literally need his family’s blessing in order to go home and set things right. And this was inspired by this moment when I was going off to art school. I had a car packed up, my dad gave me forty bucks to gas up the car to Cal Arts. As dads do. But before I left the house, they said, before you go, we just want to give you our blessing, and I’m like I don’t know what that means. But, it was my mom and my dad, so I took a knee, I knelt down and they just said a little prayer over me, and said, we love you, we support you, we know this is your first time going off on your own, and we want you to know that you have our blessing. And, I told the story in the room, in the story room because, I think this could be a very powerful moment, and I don’t know that it’s something everyone has experienced, but it was something that came from my family life that I thought, if we can convey what this feels like, it will…
DA: It’s making me cry.
AM: If we can convey what this feels like, I think it has the power to be very meaningful. Especially the sense with mama Imelda, her blessing changes over the course of this film.
LU: It’s conditional.
AM: It’s conditional at first, and then it becomes unconditional, that transition I think says so much about when a family is really, completely motivated by protecting her family, but she needs to analyze what that actually means. And, her action changes over the course of the film, and I think that’s so beautiful that it takes both sides coming together to really bring a family together.
Speaking of crying. I’d love to know a little bit more about the pictures at the end.
LU: 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 ofrena in the atrium of Pixar, and we’ve invited everyone in the company to bring in photos of their loved ones to put on the ofrenda, and 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. My grandmother’s in there.
DA: My mom. Yeah
AM: My grandparents.
LU: Your grandparents. And, we also put a lot of people that we’ve lost over time. Different animator that we’ve lost unfortunately.
DA: Walt Disney.
LU: Walt Disney is in there, Steve Jobs is in there. We put Don Rickles on there because we lost him this year; he was a big part of our family at Pixar.
So, yeah, 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.
How would you like to be remembered?
AM: I would probably like to be remember as someone who tried to use their art to make the world a better place.
LU: I will say that. And I will add on to that the same thing I always tell my kids; the only thing I want for them is to be kind people. That’s always the most important thing to me, so I would like to be remembered as somebody who was kind and fair.
DA: I will say that, and that. It’s like dominoes. Yeah and somebody who, I think especially as a woman who had courage to learn how to find my voice, and to set an example for others – I’m always conscious of that in the world. If you’re in any kind of a public figure to set an example to find your voice and speak out loud about things that matter.
Let’s talk cameos!
AM: There’s 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 the party.
LU: 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.
AM: And then, after Miguel takes the guitar and the light comes in on the window, I’m the guy who yells “the guitar, it’s gone”.
LU: 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 would only be by who grew up in Mexico. People like, Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete and Cantinflas, Maria Felix, El Santo of course, Esquivel… I made, Juan Carlos Esquivel is the guy who’s playing the glass harmonica before the talent show. You know, he’s the glasses. He’s a quirky, kind of semi-well known Mexican musician, so was there anybody else? Of course Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo.
AM: 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, so 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 inspire him and push him.
You know, to use his art to do beautiful things, and I’m so happy that this is the one film where you can do that in such an intuitive way.
LU: I was also always striving to make a film that felt kind of timeless. It’s not, it’s kind of set know, but I’m hoping that it will always feel like it’s kinda set now. Not 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 a scene in a bar and there’d be Edward G. Robinson and, a lot of movie stars from that time that 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.
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.
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COCO is now playing in theatres everywhere!
Disclosure: Travel, lodging, events, and meals during this trip were provided courtesy of Disney/Pixar, Disney Studios, & ABC. All opinions expressed are still honest and my own.