Pixar boards the grave-y train with a ri­otous, gui­tar-filled cel­e­bra­tion of Dia De Los Muer­tos

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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.


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