Could an animation which deals with themes relating to death and the afterlife be the thing to give Pixar the push it’s been craving for the last couple of years? After years of being at the top of their game, Pixar take things even further by challenging themselves and their audiences with the release of Coco, a film which references Mexican culture and tradition in the most positive way. Coco is not only a brave departure from Pixar and Disney’s Anglocentric traditions, but can also be regarded as a love letter to Mexico and its people.
An early footage presentation given to the press this week in London showcased the brilliance of co-director and screenwriter Adrian Molina, who was in attendance alongside Producer Darla K Anderson. In their presentation, the pair were able to divulge some of the secrets behind this highly anticipated animation and what to expect when it’s finished. Being of Mexican descent, Molina admits to using his own family’s experiences and Hispanic background to tell a story relating to the tradition of Dia de los Muertos (The Day of of the Dead), a festival in which Mexican families honour and remember their dead.
Molina also admits to being very inspired by artist José Guadalupe Posada’s and his Dia de los Muertos iconic artwork. With colourful representations of skulls, bones and the celebratory iconography of death and the afterlife, the film is bound to strike a chord with those familiar with this tradition and even those who are less au-fait with it.
Co-Directed by Lee Unkrich (Finding Nemo, Toy Story 3) Coco follows the adventures of 12 year-old Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) who finds himself in the land of the Dead after going against the wishes of his family and stealing something valuable from a deceased local celebrity. Unkrich, Molina and their team went though a grueling process in selecting Gonzalez for the role. As both Darla K Anderson and Molina reiterated at the presentation, the role had to go to someone who not only could act, but who could also sing and be a good all-rounder.
Darling of indie cinema and hugely talented Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal also lends his voice to this production. He plays a dead entertainer who wants to help Miguel in his quest of getting back to the land of the living. Benjamin Pratt voices a character named Ernesto de la Cruz, a traditional singer and performer who according to Molina is inspired by classical Mexican cinema.
The unfinished footage, although missing quite a bit of artwork, shows the huge potential attached to this production. Molina and Anderson talked candidly about the camaraderie on set with members of the crew who were from Mexican descent also chipping in with ideas and correcting any inaccuracies, which is sure to put any doubts about cultural appropriation to rest.
Equally, it is also worth mentioning that any doubts or misgivings anyone might have had regarding the universality of this story, are quickly dissipate the more we find out about this beautifully crafted production and the people who worked tirelessly to bring it to fruition. Coco might be seen by some as a direct response to Trump’s America, its positive outlook on the Mexican community will surely help dissipate decades of stereotypes in Hollywood cinema and are sure to help those who want to make stories about their own communities.
Tonally, the film is rather dark in its subject, but is never short on laughs and mischief. The dialogue, although in English, is peppered with Spanish words and hugely affecting and joyous musical pieces, which are sure to stick with you even after leaving the cinema.
Coco strikes the right balance between trying to please the adults in the room, without ever alienating its younger audiences. Add to that, the presence of a “not so cute” hairless dog names Danté and you have all the ingredients needed for a well rounded, charming and enjoyable feature. And whether we like it or not, the use of skull iconography, which has become prominent even in the UK around Halloween time recently, is only likely to get more popular with kids wanting to emulate their new favourite Disney movie.
On the whole, Coco looks to be destined for success, judging by the reaction to the film at the presentation, and even if it fails to garner as much interest as its predecessors, its makers should be commended for stepping out their comfort zone and giving us this truly wonderful story.
Pixar’s Coco arrives in the US on November 22, and in the UK on January 19, 2018.