It is not very often that you see a film that you fall in love with at first viewing but Coco, as you may have read HERE, did just that to me. But the best part was the next day I was able to hear the people who made and brought this amazing film to life talk about it.
Having the chance to hear director Lee Unkrich, Alanna Ubach (voice of Mama Imelda), Edward James Olmos (the Academy Award-nominated actor who voices Chicharron), Benjamin Bratt (Ernesto de la Cruz), Gael Garcia Bernal (Hector), Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel), writer/co-director Adrian Molina, and producer Darla K. Anderson all share their thoughts on this film was a perfect day.
Director Lee Unkrich was asked about how Coco came about and he shared, “the more that I dug in, the more that I learned about how central family is to this celebration, and that Dia de Muertos 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. And that was really kind of the beginning of this journey.”
Writer and co-director Adrian Molina, being of Hispanic heritage, felt that Coco was the highlight of his career to this point and spoke about how this film, “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.” Producer Darla K. Anderson, who wants to make sure movies are fun for young and old, talked about how she wants children to come out of this film, saying, “I want them to be thinking about, hopefully, 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 that they’ll all pick up a musical instrument.”
One of the highlights of the day had to be hearing Edward James Olmos talk about how Unkrich and Andersen brought him into the mix and his passion for this project. He said, “They invited me to come up to Pixar and they said that they were doing this film, and they wanted to inform me about it, and ask me my opinion about it. And they were so incredibly respectful of the material that they were working with, that immediately, it transcended into understanding on my part. And when they asked me to play the role, I was privileged. I mean, this became a real honor.” He added, “That character is what the story is. I mean, every single person in the room that’s seen that movie understands very well that what it means is if you don’t remember your loved ones, they’re gone. If you don’t tell the stories of that loved one, they cease to exist.” Olmos, when asked to do press for the film, hadn’t seen it yet. So he was invited to a screening on the Disney lot and talked about his key scene. “I walked in, and I sat down, and I would see maybe two Latinos in the entire room,” he said, continuing, “They were, you know, all of the people who I guess work at Disney; it’s the studios themselves. And they were all sitting there, and they’re kind of jaded people, you know, and they’re like – you know – you can tell by body language that, you know, they were kind of tired… sitting there, waiting and waiting. And then the movie started. And amazing feeling came across immediately – the quality was superb; the feeling, the music, the sound – everything. Performances were extraordinary. 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.”
Olmos went on, but some of what he said would be spoiling a key scene in the film. However, to wrap up his part, he did say, “Because I am Mexican, full-blooded on everybody’s side; not only am I a person who has been inside of this industry for over 50 years; not only have I really tried to understand myself inside of this art form – but this really became something really profound. And so what ended up happening is that I looked around immediately, because I was in the last chair, in the back. And I looked around, and you know, these people were all crying – everybody. Everybody was like so intensely, just trying to hold onto it, and wiping their faces, and holding on, and watching the movie. I said, ‘Hell, this thing just hit everybody like a ton of bricks.'”
Benjamin Bratt, as the voice of Ernesto de la Cruz, had the entire room laughing as he talked about how his inspiration for Ernesto’s voice came from a family member. “I start with the images they created, he said, “And clearly, this guy, even in a skeleton form, he’s got swagger, you know… 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.” But, as he pointed out, his father was his main point to draw from, saying, “My own father, who’s now deceased, and who I lost touch with many years before he passed on – I lived with him in some very formative years, from 12 to about 17. And although he was quite a bit different than who Ernesto de la Cruz is, he was larger than life – 6’3”, massive frame, broad shoulders, and a booming voice, and the kind of person that no matter which room he walked into, he commanded attention – and sometimes by saying the wrong things, well, I’ll say that much. But nonetheless, it was the kind of thing that I could draw on because it was familiar to me. So in that way, that was kind of like the lynchpin for me, with all this other stuff to create someone that enjoyed that adulation – not only enjoyed it, but they actually used it as his life’s blood.”
I felt that Alanna Ubach, Mama Imelda summed up why this film needed to be made perfectly when she said, “It was very important for Pixar to make a movie like this… They painted such an exquisite portrait of the afterlife. And so you can only hope that – my son, who’s 12 weeks old – when he’s old enough to understand this movie, he can walk away saying, ‘Mama, I am not afraid of death. I’m not afraid of the afterlife.’ What a beautiful world this would be if the afterlife was like this. Could you imagine?” She added, “And also, that they really did pay such a respect to the one quality that Latin families, Latin American families have across, and that is the importance of familia, and that is something that no presidents, or borders, or politics can ever break – that importance, the importance of familia.”
The star of the film Anthony Gonzalez (Miguel) should really be credited for making this the first Disney-Pixar musical. In his first audition, when he was 10, as pointed out by Lee, “We had him read a bunch of scenes, script pages. And then when we were all done, he took out a CD, and he said, ‘I brought a song I want to sing to you.’ And at that point, we didn’t even know if Miguel was going to be singing in the movie, so that wasn’t part of the audition. And unfortunately, we didn’t have a CD player that day, where we were. So Anthony, true to his great spirit just said, ‘Oh, well, whatever – I’ll just sing it a cappella.’ And he launched into this beautiful, like, 10-minute long, sweet rendition of this song, sung just to the few of us. And you know, we were already wowed by his audition, and then that just really sealed the deal.”
I felt that Gael Garcia Bernal (Hector) really summed up the film when he said, “This film or this expression amongst – with many other forms of expression that happen day to day… 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, to that – you know, to that colmena of life, and that they can come up with new answers to what’s needed in life that we, as humanity, need right now… This film opens up that discussion, and it is a beautiful reflection on death, and the celebration life.”
As you will all see when you go see this film, it is very special and reminds us to honor our past and never forget those who made us what we are. One of the other things that took place on this day was the folks at Ancestry.com took Coco Director Lee Unkrich, Producer Darla K. Anderson, and Co-Director Adrian Molina on a journey of their on to discover their heritage:
Coco opens in U.S. theaters on November 22nd, 2017
Our main correspondent for Walt Disney World and the Orlando area and a heck of a paleontologist if he does say so himself.