THIS BOY’S AFTERLIFE
Pixar boards the grave-y train with a riotous, guitar-filled celebration of Dia De Los Muertos
JUST ACROSS FROM life-sized Sully and Mike statues and a studio shop brimming with collectibles, a slice of Mexico arrived in Pixar’s gleaming Emeryville atrium last November as its latest, Coco, took shape. In tribute to the movie’s storyline, a small ofrenda
— an altar dedicated to deceased relatives — was set up on the Day Of The Dead holiday, Dia De Los Muertos. Staff could leave photos of their loved ones there, as well as tributes to former colleagues. Soon it spilled over with dedications and offerings. “We had to keep expanding it because so many participated,” says co-director Lee Unkrich. “It was lovely.”
Death, the Coco way, is anything but sorrowful. “It’s not about wallowing in the
negativity of death,” stresses Unkrich of his first directorial assignment since Toy Story 3. “We don’t often think about the people who were in our family long ago and who still, in subtle ways, influence who we are. What would we ask them? That was one of my early notions [for this story].”
Coco’s young hero, Miguel (voiced by newcomer Anthony Gonzales and pictured in this concept art by Sharon Calahan), is a budding guitarist from a music-averse family in Mexico’s boondocks. It’s he who asks those questions when a trip to the shrine of his musical idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), opens up a bridge to the afterlife. Once across, a high-stakes adventure takes him to a place no 12-year-old without a fearless streak and a taste for Dante’s The Divine Comedy should have to face: the Land Of The Dead. His sidekick is a Mexican hairless dog — or Xolo — called, fittingly, Dante. Together with impish skeleton Hector (Gael García Bernal), they must find a way home... or re-die trying.
The music-filled idea hit Unkrich on a family trip to the Epcot Center’s Mexico Pavilion, flesh added to its bones over numerous road trips south of the border. Alongside writer and co-director Adrian Molina, a story artist on Toy Story 3 whose own ancestry played a part, he set out on one of many trips to Mexico. “I can’t say enough about how important those trips were,” Unkrich stresses. “Especially these lovely families that taught us the meaning of the celebration.”
Detail matters on Coco. Cultural consultants — including outspoken Disney critic and political cartoonist Lalo Alcarez — were brought in, its songs refined in the spirit of great Mexican troubadours like Pedro Infante, and its lustrous design fine-tuned right down to its skull-shaped guitar and burnt-orange marigold petals — the flower of Dia De Los Muertos. For lovers of traditional Pixar Easter eggs, Unkrich promises a Pizza Planet cameo and another heart-warming presence.
“We just can’t make a film without John,” laughs Unkrich of Pixar lucky charm John Ratzenberger. “He’ll be the only non-latino in the entire film.”
Most of all, Coco is an unusually joyous take on the great beyond. “It’s colourful, musical and celebratory,” he says. “It’s about remembering the people who came before us.” Death may have come to Pixar, but Coco is no funeral.
FIRST LOOK EXCLUSIVE COCO OUT 26 DECEMBER 2017