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Interview with ‘Coco’ Producer Darla K. Anderson

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In Coco, Miguel has a passion for music, but producer Darla K. Anderson has a passion for film – a passion that, along with significant research, brought the Mexico-focused film to life. Anderson, who has worked at Pixar since 1993, also contributed to films such as A Bug’s Life, Cars, Monsters, Inc., and Toy Story 3. For both Toy Story 3 and Cars, she was given the award for Producer of the Year in Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures from the Producers Guild of America. In honor of the film’s recent home release, I had the chance to speak with Anderson about all things Coco.

How did the idea for the story of Coco come about?

Anderson: Well, right after Toy Story 3, the director Lee Unkrich and I were sitting all by ourselves in a room, and Lee came up with a few ideas, but one of them, the most compelling to me, was this idea of setting a film inside the world of Dia de Muertos. He threw that out to me, then we threw it out to our head of story Jason Katz, and both Jason and I, unbeknownst to Lee, also really loved Dia de Muertos and loved Mexico. That was the film idea that had the most interest amongst us, so we pitched three ideas, but my secret hope was that this would be the film we would make, and it turned out to be the one that everybody wanted to make.

Can you talk a bit about your team’s research trip to Mexico?

Anderson: We went down to Mexico right away in 2011, right after we pitched the idea [and] they said, “Yes.” We jumped on a plane and went down there and took tens and tens and tens of thousands of photographs that first trip. The most important thing for us was to get to know the people and the families and how they celebrated Dia de Muertos, and so what an honor it was that people opened their homes and shared their food and shared their stories. We went to all the cemeteries and all that. This film had the feeling that this is a once in a lifetime thing. We were down there on that first trip, [and] we thought, “Oh my goodness, this is a once in a lifetime moment where we’re here and experiencing all of this, and it hadn’t really been represented on screen before, and we’re so privileged and excited to tell these stories.”

Obviously many people loved the film, but what has the positive feedback from the Hispanic community in particular meant to you?

Anderson: It means everything. That’s all we cared about. We have so many people on our team that are from the Hispanic community and then we had so many consultants, and our deepest hope was that people would feel like we were approaching this with the respect and care of their culture because our films go out to the world and that we would be representing their culture correctly, and the fact that they embraced it as amazingly as they did was a bit overwhelming, honestly. That it became Mexico’s biggest film ever, live action or animated, was beyond our wildest dreams, so we’re just so grateful.

What was it like working on this film for so many years? What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Anderson: You know, it’s always, always story. It’s always trying to figure out the story. It’s hard to figure out a story that is fresh and different and that makes logical sense and that all the pieces go together. You have to do it in a relatively economic timeframe, I guess. They shouldn’t be too long, so you have all these constraints. So really the biggest challenge is always story, but then the second biggest challenge on this film is scope. It turned out to be a huge film with tons of sets and tons of characters and skeletons and fantasy creatures, so just getting all of that done in a responsible way turned out to be this gigantic but super fun challenge.

Frida Kahlo is in the film. Why did you chose to put her in the film, and did you ever consider featuring a different Mexican historical figure?

Anderson: We have a lot of Mexican historical figures in the film at the party. We [had] a list of folk that we wanted to make sure we got into the film. But Frida is just such a cool, strong, female artist, and we just thought she was perfect for Miguel to find along his way as he was trying to figure out family and what his voice would be as an artist. We thought that she’d be the perfect person for him to run into. Adrian [Molina] wrote that scene, and it was fun to wonder what she would’ve manifested in the afterlife.

With Coco exploring Mexican culture and 2012’s Brave exploring Scottish culture, why do you think it’s so important, now more than ever, to represent various cultures in film? Do you see more of these types of cultural films in Pixar’s future?

Anderson: I think it’s important to get different voices at the table, and I do think that getting Coco right was critical. Getting it culturally right was critical in every way. Having an all-Latino cast and having such a diverse crew and [having] so many consultants was critical to it’s success, and we do that on all of our films. We do deep-dives in all of our films, so I think that it’s part of our culture here at Pixar to just to try to create the most beautiful logic and true artistic expression. So I think the most important thing is to get some other voices up at the table. I’d love to see more women directors. There’s a lot of cool things we have in the pipeline here that I can’t talk about, but I’m really, really excited about the diversity of voices we have here and across our whole industry. But the next most exciting thing is Incredibles 2, and it has really, really cool, strong, female voices in it, as well, which very much excites me.

I assume that being a woman in animation is not an easy job or has definitely had it’s obstacles, and in general there’s a lack of women in filmmaking. How did you get to where you are today?

Anderson: I just was very focused and persistent and passionate, and I love what I do, and I have loved what I’ve done all these years, and I’ve just been kind of lucky. The right place at the right time with the right kind of passion.

Did you personally walk away from Coco a different person or having learned something new about the world?

Anderson: I did. I did walk away from it feeling all the more healed and connected to my gigantic family.

A big thank you to Darla K. Anderson for taking the time to do this interview and to Disney for organizing it! Coco is now available digitally and on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD.

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About Hannah Ortega

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Hannah found Star Wars, Disney, and Marvel, and a fangirl force was awakened inside her. Hannah’s favorite animated movies are Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, and Aladdin. Movies such as these inspire her writing, which is her biggest passion. Hannah is an aspiring author and journalist, as well as a Christian, a horseback rider, and a cross country runner.