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How Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Honors, Respects, and Celebrates Mexican Culture
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eelyajekiM   |  @   |  
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COCO Pixar

Pixar’s Coco explores themes of family, culture, and music through Dia De Los Muertos, the Mexican holiday which celebrates and honors family members who have passed on to the afterlife. In the film, Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) is prohibited from playing and listening to music. Despite that, he still strives to become a musician like his idol, Ernesto Del La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Héctor (Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.

We sat down with our fellow journalists to talk to the cast and crew of Coco, and what they hope the film can accomplish. Check out what they had to say below.

After the success of Toy Story 3, director Lee Unkrich was looking for something that could be his next project. Having been interested in the tradition of Dia De Los Muertos, Unkrich pitched the idea of Coco. Knowing that he would need to do plenty of research on the Mexican holiday, Unkrich took a team down to Mexico to learn more about the holiday, the culture, and spend a lot of time with families. What he came back with surprised even himself. “I really started to see the potential in telling a unique story, to tell a story that could only be told through animation that could be potentially dazzling but also have the potential to have a real emotional core to it,” Unkrich said.

As the co-director with Mexican heritage, Adrian Molina could not be more happy to be a part of this film. He considers it a highlight of his career. The film resonates with him so much since there are a lot of elements that he could relate to because of his experiences. “The way we work at Pixar is so collaborative,” Molina said. “To be able to work with all of these actors and all of these musicians, and to really bring this culture to life on screen, is something that was fun.”

Bernal says being asked to be a part of this film in a way is “an act of faith.” “When I got the invitation to meet with Lee, Adrian, and Darla K. Anderson, and talk about the movie, I remember how I was so convinced about it,” Bernal said. “After the meeting with them, I was amazed by the amount of research and also the holistic approach they were trying to do with the Day of the Dead celebration. They were also putting forth a very personal point of view as well, which ultimately makes a movie good. And I was willing to interpret that point of view. Now the results – it has transcended all my expectations.”

The actor considers himself to be lucky to be part of such an enormous film, even if he feels his contributions feel somewhat minimal. “There is nothing you can expect to match when the film is good. I am really happy and proud and lucky to be a part of this great team with all this collaborative effort,” Bernal said. “Me being a little part of it, me being able to put forth as well into the world a little fable, a mythology, a tradition I hold very dearly like Dia De Los Muertos. I’m very proud that Mexico can give this to the world and everyone can adopt this tradition and reflection of death.”

For Edward James Olmos, he noticed how incredibly respectful Pixar was of the material they were working with. For him, it transcended understanding on his part. So he felt privileged and honored to be asked to have a role in the film, despite it not being as significant as Miguel or Hector. But his role is vital to moving the story. So before he did press for the film, he caught a screening of it at Disney where his offices are located. And by the end of the film, he was in heaving sobs. “I was in harsh heaving sobs, one of those things that not only has pride taken over because I am Mexican, full-blooded on everybody’s side, not only am I a person who has been inside the industry for over 50 years, not only have I tried not to only understand myself inside of this art form but this really became something profound,” Olmos said.

He noticed everyone else at the screening was also crying. “Everybody was like so intensely, just trying to hold onto it, and wiping their faces, and holding on, and watching the movie,” Olmos said. “The brilliance of it was the real beauty of the storytelling.”

But if there is one thing that the actor could not have predicted, it’s how much of an impact this film could have on the world. He told Lee and Darla, “You have no idea what you’ve done. You won’t know for like, 15 or 20 years.” He added, “It’s gonna take that long for it to resonate throughout the planet, and really take hold of what art does to people in their subconscious mind, and people are gonna see this movie, are gonna come out really moved.”

Olmos is counting on the film’s story and themes to move audiences to think about their late loved ones, and hopefully help them to remember to take some time out of their busy lives to say thank you.

As for what the voice cast wants audiences to walk away with after they have watched the film, it’s the fact that absolutely nothing can break the bonds of family. “They really did pay such a respect to the one quality that Latin families, Latin American families have across, and that is the importance of familia,” Alanna Ubach added “That is something that no presidents, or borders, or politics can ever break – that importance, the importance of familia.”

Bernal agreed with that sentiment, and dedicated the film to kids, especially Latino kids who have suffered from discriminatory attacks that have been fueled by ignorance. “I have to do a very personal dedication, this film is for the kids, the Latino kids growing in the United States because in the official narrative, it’s been said that their parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents are rapists, murderers, drug traffickers,” Bernal said. “These kids are being born in a moment of huge, complete fear, and they have to fight against the lie, and it’s very complicated to argue against the lie.”

But the actor is confident that Coco will give kids the strength to overcome those persecutions by realizing “they come from a very sophisticated culture, and to know that they have the possibility to always have access to that hive and that they can come up with new answers to what’s needed in life that we, as humanity, need right now.” He added that Coco “is a beautiful reflection on death, and the celebration life.”

Coco opens in theaters on November 22, 2017. Click right here for more including trailers.

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