Pixar takes a trip into a musical afterlife
Pixar gets stuck into Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebrations. James Bond gives this one a miss.
IT’S INSPIRED BY MEXICAN TRADITION
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.”
IT’S ABOUT DEATH – BUT IT’S NOT DARK
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.”
THERE’S LOTS OF HISTORY
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.”
SKELETONS ARE HARD TO DO
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.”
MIGUEL REALLY CAN PLAY GUITAR
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.