The team behind Coco knows a thing or two about hard work. It makes sense then that, during the two-day press event at Pixar Studios in early August, they packed all the visiting reporters’ schedules full of panels on music, animation and writing.
At the end of it all everyone gathered into a conference room for a conversation with Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina and Darla K. Anderson.
Unkrich, who co-directed hits like Toy Story 2 and Monsters, Inc. before directing Toy Story 3 on his own, has been with Pixar since 1995. He started in the editing department and slowly climbed up the storytelling ranks. When he was working as supervising film editor on A Bug’s Life, he met Anderson, a producer who has spent her entire career at Pixar. Since then, Unkrich and Anderson have worked together on everything from A Bug’s Life to Toy Story 3.
Similar to Unkrich, Molina worked his way up through different parts of the Pixar machine to get to the director’s chair. His first gig with Pixar was animating the end titles for Ratatouille, but he quickly jumped around and became a storyboard artist as well as helped with the screenplays of projects like Monsters University and The Good Dinosaur.
Molina revealed that after he heard about Unkrich’s initial pitch to John Lassetter for Coco, he was immediately interested. “I was like ‘put me on that movie,” and put him on the movie they did. He initially joined the project as a writer, but Unkrich was quickly impressed by his determination and love of the film and brought him on as a Co-Director.
Anderson said Molina was just one member of the Pixar team who got excited about the idea. Apparently, “once we pitched the idea to John, and he said yes, there was palpable excitement at the studio about exploring this whole universe.”
For Molina, the project is about “connection to family” and how sometimes we have “to be truthful to the fact that families aren’t always completely functional.” There are quite a few members of the Rivera family in the film, but originally there were going to be even more.
“It’s tough when you have a big ensemble cast to give everyone their own arc,” Unkrich said, referencing how overcrowded A Bug’s Life was. “We wanted clear, identifiable character types for Miguel’s family and just stick with those and not try to do more than that.”
“They can only have so much screen time, so we want to make sure they breathe through with their own unique personalities,” said Anderson.
Not only is Coco about family, but it’s also very much about Mexican culture. There are snippets of Spanish conversations in the film, usually small moments between characters that can be understood through context clues, but it’s primarily in English. Molina said they “created a framework for when to use Spanish and when not to” that includes most of the signs throughout the movie being in Spanish.
To make sure different aspects of the culture were presented respectfully and truthfully, a team of cultural advisors were brought onto the project at the very beginning. At Pixar, each film is screened internally about every 12 weeks to keep everyone up-to-date on progress and allow room for critiques. Normally these screenings are just for fellow Pixar employees, but Unkrich revealed that they “started having screenings for consultants across the country.” Initially some were worried about the project, but over time, certain things about the movie “put them at ease pretty quickly and also made them feel comfortable giving big notes.”
A big part of the research for the project included looking at how the after-life was depicted in other movies. Since there is no concrete vision tied to Dia de los Muertos, the team could figure out their own way of doing things. Instead of copying anything they saw in other movies, Unkrich said “in most cases it kind of showed me what I didn’t want to do.”
Even during their conversations with families celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico, the Coco team wasn’t presented with one answer. After they asked certain families what they thought of the afterlife, “pretty consistently people would go ‘I don’t know.’”
Following the spiritual route, Unkirch revealed that he thinks there are three The Shining references hidden throughout the film but mentions that there may be more. “The crew sometimes sneaks things in and hides them from me even –there was one thing that I wouldn’t have noticed if they didn’t tell me about it.”
Since the movie takes place in Mexico, Pixar decided to utilize an all-latino cast. Well, that is except for Pixar legend John Ratzenberger that is.
“I have found one line for him because I didn’t want to be the one to break the tradition that goes all the way back to Toy Story!,” joked Unkrich.
Coco opens in U.S. theaters on November 22, 2017.
5 Superheroes That Deserve Their Own Video Game Universe
World building and universe building are not new. These writing techniques have been around for centuries, long before we even started writing our stories down. I always considered Beowulf to be the precursor to superheroes and comics. However, due to the overwhelming success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the CW DC Universe (or Arrowverse), it seems that the universal world building that has been in comics for three-quarters of a century has finally become a major storytelling point in both the film and TV worlds of superheroes.
Between Rocksteady’s Arkham Trilogy (Batman: Arkham Origins was developed by WB Games Montreal), Telltale Games’ Guardians of the Galaxy, Insomniac Games establishing that their Spider-Man game will be the anchor point for a new Spider-Man universe, and the announcement from earlier this year of a multi-year, multi-game deal between Marvel and developer/publisher Square Enix it seems like the video games will be the next place where sprawling superhero stories will be told.
Hit Next to learn about 5 superheroes that deserve their own video game universe!