I was moved by the story line of Disney Pixar’s Coco which will land in theaters on November 22. So heading into the Coco Global press conference I didn’t expect to be so moved by what the story represents not just to one culture but to us all.
“To me, it was a modern cultural masterpiece.” Alanna Ubach, voice of Mama Imelda.
LEE UNKRICH: Darla, and Adrian, and I all worked on Toy Story III together. And when we finished that film, I started to think about what was next, and I had a few different ideas that I was kicking around. And one of them was the idea of telling a story set against Dia de los Muertos. I had always been interested in the tradition, and I spent some time doing some research, and really trying to understand more than I already knew. And the more that I dug in, the more that I learned about how central family is to this celebration, and that Dia de los Muertos is, you know, is all about this obligation that we all have to remember our loved ones, and to pass their stories along. And I just really started to see the potential to tell a unique story, to tell a story that could only be told in animation, that could be visually dazzling, but also had the potential to have a real emotional core to it. And that was really kind of the beginning of this journey. And we immediately headed down to Mexico and started – went on the first of what proved to be many lengthy research trips, to spend time learning about the traditions, learning about the culture, and spending a lot of time with many beautiful families down in Mexico.
The central character in Coco is a lovable young boy named Miguel played by Anthony Gonzalez. Anthony’s first starring role in a film was made easier with the guidance and direction of Lee Unkrich and team.
ANTHONY GONZALEZ: I just really loved the making of it. I loved being with Lee, Darla and Adrian in the booth, and other people. And there was just so much fun, because it was very easy for me because I had the guidance of them three, and it was just – it was like a breeze for me, and it was just so much fun doing the voice of Miguel.
I was very interested in all of the characters in Coco but I have to admit two of my personal favorites going in where Benjamin Bratt and Edward James Olmos. I love it when expectation and reality match. These two delivered superb performances in the film.
Benjamin shared that he drew inspiration from a real life family member when bringing the larger than life Ernesto de la Cruz to the film.
BENJAMIN BRATT: The first inspiration you draw from is the image that they create. You know, as actors, we don’t have the benefit of performing with one another. It’s a very kind of isolating experience to be in a booth, with only three other people in the room, and with Lee giving you the lines. I mean, most of what we try to do is create something organic through action and reaction. So with just this to work with, you have to pull on all kinds of other things. So I start with the images they created. And clearly, this guy, even in a skeleton form, he’s got swagger, you know. So – so it’s easy to kind of adopt that idea, principally. But beyond that, Lee, and Adrian, and Darla pointed me in the direction of studying some of the movie clips of Pedro Infante, and Jorge Negrete. These were film stars, and music stars, in the equivalent strata of someone like Frank Sinatra – guys who were as beloved, and as admired for their singing prowess as they were for their acting chops. And there’s plenty of footage to be found on YouTube, and so I studied that quite a bit. But beyond that, to your question – my own father, who’s now deceased, and who I lost touch with many years before he passed on – I lived with him in some very formative years, from 12 to about 17. And although he was quite a bit different than who Ernesto de la Cruz is, he was larger than life – 6’3”, massive frame, broad shoulders, and a booming voice, and the kind of person that no matter which room he walked into, he commanded attention – and sometimes by saying the wrong things, well, I’ll say that much. But nonetheless, it was the kind of thing that I could draw on because it was familiar to me. So in that way, that was kind of like the lynch pin for me, with all this other stuff to create someone that enjoyed that adulation – not only enjoyed it, but they actually used it as his life’s blood.
Edward James Olmos told the most personal story of the conference that really made how important this film is come to life.
Edward James Olmos: They’ve been working on this for six years, you know. And so two years ago, I did this. And here, lo and behold, I go see the piece – on Monday, I saw it, actually, because I had to do press with you, all of you, and I didn’t know – I hadn’t seen the movie. So I said how can I do press if I don’t know what I’m talking about? So they had a screening over at Disney, where my offices are. And I walked in, and I sat down, and I would see maybe two Latinos in the entire room. They were, you know, all of the people who I guess work at Disney; it’s the studios themselves. And they were all sitting there, and they’re kind of jaded people, you know, and they’re like – you know – you can tell by body language that, you know, they were kind of tired; they were, you know – you know, sitting there, waiting and waiting. And then the movie started. And amazing feeling came across immediately – the quality was superb; the feeling, the music, the sound – everything. Performances were extraordinary. And as it went along, and I – then my part came in, and I said, “Oh, my God,” I emotionally – I felt emotional for this guy. And Chicharron became, within a matter of a minute and a half to two minutes, became someone that I could identify with, you know – a relative, a friend, a person, that – and is said, “Wow.” And then – boom – when he leaves, and I’m – I was like Miguel. “Where’d he go?” You know. And the answer that Hector gives him was right on. He said, “Well, nobody’s thinkin’ about him anymore, and he – he’s disappeared now; he’s gone.” And, “Where’d he go?” “I don’t know.” You know, none of us do. So then the story started to evolve. And by the time it got to the end, I was in heaving sobs. And – I mean, harsh, heaving sobs, you know, like one of those kind of things that – not only is pride taken over, because I am Mexican, full blooded on everybody’s side; not only am I a person who has been inside of this industry for over 50 years; not only have I really tried to understand myself inside of this art form – but this really became something really profound. And so what ended up happening is that I looked around immediately, because I was in the last chair, in the back. And I looked around, and you know, these people were all crying – everybody. Everybody was like so intensely, just trying to hold onto it, and wiping their faces, and holding on, and watching the movie. I said, “Hell, this thing just hit everybody like a ton of bricks.” Remember, I didn’t know anything. And you didn’t know anything. So you sat there and watched the story unfold. And the brilliance of it was the real beauty of the storytelling – profoundly, Adrian, you know, Carla – phew – Darla – incredible for me. And it hit me with like – really hard, like it hit most people. And I gotta tell ya – this thing – and I told Lee this yesterday, and I told Darla, too, and we were standing there taking photographs – I said, “You have no idea what you’ve done. You won’t know for like, 15 or 20 years.”
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 what it does to – I mean, people who have never – are gonna see this movie, are gonna come out really moved, especially if you haven’t thought about your parents, or you haven’t thought about your loved ones, and you haven’t really gotten into your own family, and you haven’t – you’ve been too busy living your life, that you haven’t gone back to even say thank you. You haven’t been even to maybe the cemetery, where they’re buried now for 30 years, or 20 years, or however long they’ve been away from you. You know – when’s the last time you visited your great-great-grandmother’s burial site? You know, you – “Oooh, that’s a touchy situation they’re in.” Right. Most of us don’t even know who they are, because the stories weren’t passed on. And then – so they’re gonna walk out, and they’re gonna feel an emptiness, and they’re gonna try to fill that emptiness with the knowledge of what they just got. So they’re going to investigate, and move forward. That’s why I’m so grateful. I mean, six years ago, you didn’t know that we’d be politically in the shape that we’re in – nobody did. Nobody knew that Mexicans were gonna be, like, treated like they’ve been treated over the last year – nobody. You know, the last two years have been very difficult for us, and it’s hard not to come about and have an attitude. So – but you know, you try to stay strong, knowing that the pendulum swang one way – it’s gonna swing back. And when it does, it’ll have a different reaction, and we’ll have another sense of who we are, and the changes. This thing placed us in a very strong position for the future. People are gonna say thank you to the Mexican culture for introducing them to a value that they did not know anything about. We – we celebrate, you know, Halloween. Hello – that’s how we celebrate the Day of the Dead. We dress up, and you know, we go out, and we – “Trick or treat,” you know. And think about that – versus what the Day of the Dead really represents for many of us, which is a time to celebrate in the memory of, and pass the stories on, and celebrate life at its fullest. So I am, as Chicharron, doing that one scene, it’s one of my proudest moments in the art form
ABOUT THE MOVIE
Despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel (voice of newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of 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 Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
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Visit the official COCO website here: http://movies.disney.com/coco
COCO opens in theatres everywhere on November 22nd!
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