Disney/Pixar’s latest entry Coco is not only a solid entry in the beloved company’s film slate, but also a big step for inclusive and diverse stories in animation (and some will argue in film, period). With two weeks on the top of the box office, citations from the New York Film Critics Circle and National Board of Review for Best Animated Film, and 10 Annie Award nominations, we here at Rotoscopers would like to bring our readers some highlights from the film’s global press conference held earlier last month.
A Career High
Co-Director Adrian Molina had worked on storyboarding for Toy Story 3 and Monsters University, but called the experience on Coco “the highlight of his career up to this point.” Being of Mexican descent, the opportunity to bring personal experience in the celebration of Mexican culture and family traditions while also living the collaborative model of Pixar and working with the actors and musicians was a journey like no other.
A Star is Born
Newcomer Anthony Gonzalez had the difficult task of anchoring the film, and does so with all of the humor, heart, and charisma of a seasoned voice actor. Coco marks his film debut, and Gonzalez and producer Darla K. Anderson recalled a key moment from his first audition three years ago when he was 10. After finishing a reading of some scenes, Gonzalez brought a CD with him and said that he wanted to sing a song for the filmmakers in the room. With no CD player on hand he sang a 10-minute rendition a cappella, which essentially “sealed the deal” for them. Fun fact: at this point in production it hadn’t been decided if Miguel would be doing any singing in the film.
Mozart in the (Animated) Jungle
Gael Garcia Bernal gives life and depth to the character of Hector, a key companion for Miguel in the world of the dead. Bernal cited the experience as “an act of faith” and that the personal perspective of Dia de los Muertos is what made the movie for him, “transcending his expectations.” For Mexico to be able to give this passion project to the world and offer this “reflection on death” was a privilege for him.
A Family Inspiration
In order to create the character of Ernesto de la Cruz, Benjamin Bratt drew on Frank Sinatra-like Mexican film and music stars Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, studying videos from YouTube. However, swagger and sheer presence of de la Cruz was actually drawn from Bratt’s father. While he may have been 6’3 with a massive build and sonic voice, his larger-than-life personality and tendency to “command attention, sometimes by saying the wrong things” was a personal experience that Bratt could draw from and bring to the recording booth.
No Small Parts
Veteran actor Edward James Olmos shared a poignant story about how he was initially invited to Pixar to meet with Director Lee Unkrich and Anderson as a consultant for their ideas for the film. Touched by the “incredible respect of the material”, Olmos agreed to play the brief but crucial role of Chicharron without seeing the script and without much context on how his character factored into the larger whole of the film itself.
After a screening held at Disney Studios a few days prior to the press conference and seeing the completed film for the first time, Olmos’ emotional reaction was not lost on him or the rest of the room; he saw himself in his character and the visual representation of his culture and values had transcended the screen. The resonance of forgetting about someone you love is a touch point that many viewers have related to, regardless of race or color, and that is perhaps why this particular piece of filmmaking has struck a chord with a diverse audience this holiday season as we celebrate family and time-honored traditions. Olmos later told Unkrich and Anderson: “You have no idea what you’ve done. You won’t know for like, 15 or 20 years.”
A Note for Young Viewers
While Anderson spoke of Pixar’s long-standing tradition of making films for all viewers, she did have a few takeaways for younger children. “First, to come enjoy the film, and have a fabulous time. And then if they watch it multiple times I want them to be thinking about where they came from and who their great-grandparents might be, and what their ancestry is. And then Adrian’s fond of saying he hopes they’ll all pick up a musical instrument.” I think that says it all.