It’s been over a year since we last reported on the tortured saga of Pixar’s upcoming Día de Muertos-inspired feature Coco; but in the big picture of Coco’s ongoing six-year development process, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Back in 2010, it was Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich who first had the idea to make an animated film inspired by Mexico’s rich visual culture, but a series of delays and setbacks ultimately culminated in some unwanted controversy when Disney attempted to trademark the phrase “Día de los Muertos” across platforms in 2013.
But Disney-Pixar handled the whole thing like proper adults and listened to the outcry of Chicano activists, going as far as hiring high-profile critics like Lalo Alcaraz to serve as cultural consultants on the project. And now, after a series of promising overtures toward cultural authenticity, the team behind Coco has made an unprecedented play by revealing advanced details on Coco’s story and style to select journalists a full year ahead of it’s release. Judging from the warm response, we have good reason to be excited.
First of all, the star-studded cast of voice actors includes none other than our future husband, Gael García Bernal, as a trickster spirit named Hector; alongside other beloved Latino stars like Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor, and 12-year-old newcomer Anthony González as the movie’s golden-voiced protagonist Miguel. According to a synopsis provided by Pixar, Miguel is the scion of an provincial family who refrains from participating in any musical activity, apparently on account of a long-dead patriarch who abandoned his wife to pursue fame as a musician.
Miguel, however, is a sweet young boy with a restless musical soul and when he breaks into the mausoleum of a local musical hero to take his guitar, he is swept away to the spirit world where his ancestors lead him on a journey of personal discovery.
Based on the picturesque city of Guanajuato in central Mexico, the spirit world of Coco is packed to the brim with visual references to traditional ofrendas, flor de cempasúchil, alebrijes, and even a hairless Xoloitzcuintli as Miguel’s trusty canine companion. All of this is apparently topped off by a soundtrack steeped in traditional Mexican genres with some original compositions thrown in for good measure, and they’ve got Camilo Lara (aka Mexican Institute of Sound) working with the music team.
While Coco has been in the works since 2010, Unkrich and screenwriter/co-director Adrian Molina are clear about the renewed importance of this type of project in the age of Donald Trump. Describing the film as a “love letter to Mexico,” Unkrich recently reflected on the importance of generating empathy through storytelling. “If we can tell a good story with characters audiences can care about, I’d like to think that prejudices can fall aside,” he told journalists. “People can just experience the story and these characters for the human beings that they are.”
With masterpieces of emotional storytelling like Toy Story and Finding Nemo under their belts, it’s probably safe to say that this task is in great hands over at Pixar.
Coco opens in theaters on November 22, 2017.
[h/t: Vanity Fair]