Pixar takes a trip into a mu­si­cal af­ter­life

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Pixar gets stuck into Mexico’s Day of the Dead cel­e­bra­tions. James Bond gives this one a miss.


1 Pixar’s lat­est CG of­fer­ing heads to Mexico, for a tale based around the festival of Día de Muer­tos (Day of the Dead). “Coco is based in real tra­di­tion,” co-di­rec­tor Adrian Molina tells Red Alert. “We started with the source material, and it’s also about un­der­stand­ing the tra­di­tions of the [Día de Muer­tos] cel­e­bra­tion – what they all mean, what they rep­re­sent, why they are there and how they serve this pur­pose of re­mem­ber­ing your fam­ily, keep­ing that con­nec­tion and let­ting it be this joy­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”


2 Coco is fo­cused on 12-year-old Miguel, who longs to play the gui­tar – but his fam­ily, wounded by an an­ces­tor who aban­doned them years be­fore to be­come a mu­si­cian, have banned mu­sic. After try­ing to steal the gui­tar of his late idol, Miguel finds him­self trapped among the dead – but don’t ex­pect wall-to-wall dark­ness, or for the film to have a mourn­ful tone. “The Día de Muer­tos cel­e­bra­tion is joy­ful,” ex­plains Molina. “Peo­ple are telling jokes and you’ve got pa­rades in the street. That’s not to say there’s not a som­bre element to it, but it’s built into the way the hol­i­day’s ac­tu­ally cel­e­brated, and that was what we wanted to lean into. If the world of the dead were scary, I don’t think we’d be able to do jus­tice to the story.”


3 Coco’s af­ter­life is a melt­ing pot of civil­i­sa­tions, with nu­mer­ous dif­fer­ent cul­tures stacked on top of each other in a lit­eral fam­ily tree. “There are these dif­fer­ent eras of ar­chi­tec­ture start­ing with the Aztec pyra­mids on this gi­ant ex­panse of wa­ter – that’s in­spired by Mexico City – then you’ve got postColumbian build­ings off of that, and as you get to the top more mod­ern ar­chi­tec­ture.”

“Our tech­ni­cal artists love to chal­lenge them­selves,” adds Coco’s pro­ducer, Darla An­der­son. “We didn’t know how to cre­ate it when we started, but they bought a whole other level to it.”


4 The dead in Coco take the form of skele­tons, which pose a big question for the an­i­ma­tors – how do you get char­ac­ter and emo­tion out of a bunch of bones? “A skele­ton in the most lit­eral sense doesn’t have eye­brows, doesn’t have lips – all the things you’d usu­ally use to be able to read ex­pres­sion and to re­late,” Molina ad­mits. “We made a very con­scious ef­fort to de­sign them so that you could sit and watch them close up, for­get they’re a bunch of bones, and get lost in the fact that these are char­ac­ters that have mo­ti­va­tions and goals.”


5 Not lit­er­ally – that would clearly be im­pos­si­ble for a bunch of pix­els – but look closely at Miguel’s hands on his gui­tar, and they’re recre­at­ing ac­tual chords. “I don’t think you would be­lieve it if he was just do­ing pup­pety strum­ming,” says Molina. “When we recorded the gui­tar play­ing for the film, we had a cam­era on both of the hands from mul­ti­ple an­gles so the an­i­ma­tors could see ex­actly what was be­ing played.”

“When the first trailer came out,” An­der­son chips in, “some­one tweeted, ‘Thank you for get­ting the chords right. Love, the Mu­si­cians of the World.’ We loved that. Peo­ple know, and they no­tice.”

Coco is re­leased in UK cin­e­mas on 19 Jan­uary.

Miguel came from quite a bony fam­ily.

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