Dia de los Muertos may have just passed, but Pixar’s upcoming film Coco wants the celebration to continue. A colorful look at Mexican culture and the land of the dead, Coco follows a young boy named Miguel as he tries to determine his own destiny in a controlling family.
The film audiences will see on the 22nd isn’t quite what director Lee Unkrich originally pitched. A long-time Pixar collaborator and the director of Toy Story 3, Unkrich had to scratch some different muscles this time around because it was the first time he “developed something from scratch.”
“Since I didn’t know a lot about Dia de los Muertos myself, and I knew that a lot of the audience around the world wouldn’t know about the holiday specifically, my first instinct was to tell a story as an outsider.”
Executive producer Darla Anderson, who worked on Toy Story 3 with Unkrich, said she was immediately drawn to the idea. The Pixar pitching process includes simultaneously pitching three story ideas, and Anderson knew she wanted Coco to be the one John Lasseter preferred. Singling out the sense of adventure and beauty, she described the idea as “perfect for animation.”
According to Unkrich, the movie was originally going to follow a mixed heritage Mexican-American child as he traveled down to Mexico for the holiday. The creative team “thought if the world was gonna learn about the holiday, why not have the character learn alongside the audience?”
Ultimately, the story moved away from that idea and embraced the holiday’s roots. Part of what makes Pixar so special for Unkrich is the fact that they’re “not expected to get it right the first time” and they have the support to constantly tweak their ideas to make the best movie.
In order to make the best movie, Unkrich recognized that he needed help, so he turned to Adrian Molina, the writer of The Good Dinosaur. Recognizing in him someone who “cared very deeply about how to solve these problems,” Unkrich tapped Molina to help him write the film and serve as co-director.
Describing the experience of working as a co-director (this was Molina’s first time in the director’s seat0, he talked about how much he learned from his partner.
“It’s not necessarily about knowing all the solutions, but having the vision and being a great communicator to empower the artist to come back and surprise you.”
For Molina, the thing that excites him about any project is the character’s journey. Instead of focusing on a stagnate individual, he thinks it’s best to tell a story “that challenges your character to grow.” In Miguel’s case, he is stuck between his desire to make music and please his staunchly anti-musical family.
A big component of Coco is retaining an authentic feel and avoiding stereotypes. In order to make the fictional city of Santa Cecilia feel like a real place, the filmmakers littered the movie with different types of music, like mariachi and banda.
“Even coming from a Mexican background myself, I’ve got a certain window into everything but no person is an expert in all things Mexican,” said Molina.
To ensure the movie had a wide variety of voices, the filmmakers brought on a team of cultural consultants and experts who were able to comment on everything from the family dynamics to the color scheme. For Unkrich, it’s that level of “cultural specificity” that helps elevate the final product.
“It’s pretty easy not to fall into stereotypes,” said Unkrich. “We all know what the stereotypes are and we wanted to avoid them at all costs.”
Even with all the resources and help that Pixar can provide, making good stories is never a simple or easy process.
“It’s a tough thing,” said Unkrich on the story making process. “It’s interesting, you’d think after 25 years of being at Pixar and making these movies that somehow we’d have a leg up on how to tell a good story. But every single time we start a new thing it’s just difficult. People have been telling stories for thousands of years and it never gets any easier.”
The Walt Disney Animation Library, Ranked From Worst To Best
Disney had made an unconventional “franchise” out of remaking its animated classics as live-action blockbusters. Combined with their Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars stables, it has ensured the company’s continued domination in the film sphere. Maleficent, Cinderella, and The Jungle Book were at the forefront of that charge the last few years. Now, with Beauty and the Beast hitting theaters (our review here), now is a great time to look back at Disney’s amazing animated catalog and how they stack up against each other.
Disney has had a lot of animated films released theatrically or direct-to-video, sometimes in collaboration with other studios. This list specifically focuses on those from the Walt Disney Animation department, so sorry Brave Little Toaster fans, of which I’m one. No Pixar flicks either, but fans of that studio are in luck, as we ranked their films last summer. You can check that list out below.
I haven’t seen Saludos Amigos, Make Music Mine, Song of the South, Melody Time, Fun and Fancy Free, & The Three Caballeros, hence their exclusion. Naturally, we’ll most likely disagree about the specific ordering. Let’s think of it as a conversation starter. I’d love to hear what you guys think in the comments!
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