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Bringing the music of Coco to life

Adrian Molina, Coco, Michael Giacchino, music

Posted by Simoa • November 29, 2017

Coco has won over audiences with its vivid portrayal of familial love. As much as it celebrates family, it is also a celebration of music.

Music is intimately woven into Coco, more than it is in any other Pixar film. This is only to be expected since its hero Miguel is an aspiring musician, but Coco‘s music is also influenced by Mexico which further sets it apart from other Pixar features. The filmmakers were committed to telling a story that eschewed stereotypes, one that painted an authentic and multifaceted portrait of Mexican people. The music would need these qualities as well. To achieve musical authenticity, songwriter Germaine Franco and consultant Camilo Lara were recruited to the team.

During the film’s press day in August, we were treated to a firsthand listen, learning about the myriad ways music blended into the film. And that musical presence springs directly from Miguel’s secret dream.

Federico Ramos, Michael Giacchino, Germaine Franco, Camilo Lara and Adrian Molina present at “Coco” Long Lead Press Day, which included a filmmaker roundtable, presentations about the music, story, characters and set designs of the film, on August 4, 2017 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Marc Flores / Pixar)

There are three types of music to be heard in Coco. The source music was very important, as it pulled from Mexico’s broad tapestry of traditional music. Mariachi is one example that figures prominently within the film.

Original songs inspired by Mexican music were written by co-director Adrian Molina, along with Franco, Bobby Lopez, and Kristen-Anderson Lopez. “Remember Me,” Ernesto de la Cruz’s most famous song, is a show stopping spectacle that recalls the glamour of Mexico’s Golden Age of cinema. Franco also noted that the song continuously reinforces the film’s theme of remembering our loved ones. The energetic “Un Poco Loco” with lyrics by Molina has a middle section which includes instrumentals only. This is one of the ways in which Lara’s purpose to create music that smells like Mexico was achieved.

Then of course is the score which encompasses character themes, as well as conflict and setting.

Federico Ramos, Michael Giacchino, Germaine Franco, Camilo Lara and Adrian Molina present at “Coco” Long Lead Press Day, which included a filmmaker roundtable, presentations about the music, story, characters and set designs of the film, on August 4, 2017 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Marc Flores / Pixar)

 

Michael Giacchino is one of Pixar’s most cherished collaborators. Coco marks his sixth film in this partnership. He detailed his process in composing the score, which began after he watched the film. It was a very emotional experience, not least because it brought him back to his childhood. Giacchino grew up listening to Mexican music, which he described as very melodic. Incorporating that sound into the score was a priority.

Giacchino is Italian, but the idea of family is so incredibly strong that he connected to the story, and the same is true for non Mexicans who have embraced Coco.

Authenticity is key in Coco, right down to the smallest details. The way Miguel strums the guitar had to be accurate. Pixar’s animators were praised as well for their attention to detail and making the guitar playing correct. The gorgeously designed guitar appears below.

The guitar at “Coco” Long Lead Press Day, which included a filmmaker roundtable, presentations about the music, story, characters and set designs of the film, on August 3, 2017 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

And it was this guitar that Federico Ramos (pictured above) played! As Giacchino said, the guitar was the only way to play the music of the film.

To learn more about the songwriting and scoring process, watch the featurette below. You can also catch a glimpse of the many musicians whom Franco praised for adding their own artistry and spirit to the music.

Though Coco details death and the afterlife, it’s a lively film and the music lives and breathes too.

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Review: Coco is a vibrant celebration of family, music, and Mexico

Adrian Molina, Coco, Lee Unkrich, Review

Posted by Simoa • November 22, 2017

 

Coco is the #1 movie in Mexico of all time. Besides setting unprecedented box office records, it’s also become one of the country’s most beloved films. Following the film’s premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival at the end of October and its general Mexican release on November 2nd, many expressed enormous gratitude to directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina for what they achieved. Coco was always going to be important. It’s Pixar’s first feature length film with a nonwhite protagonist, the first to portray a non-American/nonwhite culture, and is described as a love letter to Mexico. Naturally, Unkrich and his team were responsible for telling this story in the most faithful and positive way possible. He took that responsibility seriously, noting that he didn’t want the film to feel as if it was made by an outsider. Molina and the rest of the crew’s Mexican backgrounds certainly helped a great deal in that regard.

Here’s what Alex Nogales of the National Hispanic Media Coalition had to say about it:

Coco is the best film ever produced that truly represents our Latino values, our culture, and love of song, dance, and family. You will laugh, you will cry, and applaud loudly on seeing this wonderful film where Latinos play important roles both in front of and back of camera. See it and lets make this great film a success so that studios produce more Latino themed films and television shows.”

Steeped in the rich traditions and customs of Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos holiday, the heart of Coco beats with tremendous love and life.

12 year old Miguel Rivera (a stellar Anthony Gonzalez in his film debut) is convinced that his family is the only one in Mexico that hates music. And he’s right. It’s inconceivable, but the Riveras believe music is a curse, ever since Miguel’s great-great grandfather walked out on his wife and daughter to pursue a music career. For generations, no Rivera has ever listened to or played music — until Miguel that is. A self taught guitarist, he dreams of being like his legendary idol Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), Mexico’s most famous and beloved singing star. But of course, he’s kept this passion a secret from his family, especially his grandmother, Abuelita (Renee Victor). As the Rivera family’s loving but formidable matriarch, Abuelita is the primary enforcer of the music ban. Miguel and no one else would dare cross her.

It was Miguel’s great-great grandmother Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach), furious over her husband’s desertion, who banned music from the Rivera household. To support herself and her daughter, Coco, she made shoes. And she passed this skill down to Coco, who in turn passed it down, until everyone in the Rivera line joined the family business. It’s clear very early on that Miguel is never going to be a shoemaker. He is finally emboldened to seize his moment (de la Cruz’s mantra) and reveal his ambition to his family, who are shocked and upset that he’s disobeyed them. But he is desperate to prove himself a real musician like his idol and perform in a talent show that’s being held on Dia de Los Muertos.

Miguel not only seizes his moment but de la Cruz’s guitar as well, on display in his mausoleum. After joyfully strumming the guitar, Miguel becomes invisible to the living, emitting a rosy orange glow, only visible to his companion, the street dog Dante, and the dead. Because it’s Dia de Los Muertos, spirits have all converged on the cemetery to reunite with their living loved ones. It’s here that he meets his family, the dead Riveras. This is not a fuzzy family reunion however. Though Miguel is awed to be in their presence, they quickly conclude that his sudden appearance to them is the reason Mama Imelda is unable to cross over to the Land of the Living; not a good thing.

Now the adventure begins, as Miguel journeys to the Land of the Dead, and learns the truth of his family history and ancestry.

This world is easily one of Pixar’s most staggering in scope and beauty. The shimmering marigold bridge that connects the two lands, the skull imagery on buildings, Ernesto de la Cruz’s grand palace and the sheer amount of vivid colors practically defy description. Color sings in the Land of the Dead, best represented in the alebrijes, animal spirit guides with bold, deep hues of red, orange, green and other dazzling colors and patterns. The most glorious of the spirit guides is Mama Imelda’s Pepita, a large and powerful winged cat who is sure to take your breath away the moment she appears onscreen.

Coco is brimming with a cast of fully realized characters, alive and not, human and not. Miguel is such a wonderful addition to Pixar’s heroes; passionate, brave, and soft hearted. The skeletons are impressive because they are animated with the same expressiveness as their living counterparts, and actually seem like real people who once lived.

One of the skeletons that Miguel befriends on his journey is the amiable and mischievous Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal), who’s fallen on hard times and is desperate to visit the Land of the Living. The two strike up a bargain: Hector helps Miguel meet de la Cruz, and Miguel helps him cross over. The one factor complicating things is Miguel’s limited time: if he doesn’t receive a family member’s blessing by sunrise at the end of Dia de Los Muertos, he’ll become a skeleton himself and will not be able to return home.

And now, the music! Music is embedded into this story. Although Coco is not a traditional musical, the characters do sing, and memorable tunes penned by the songwriting team of Robert Lopez and Kristen-Anderson Lopez, along with co-director Molina, make this film a compelling ode to music. “Un Poco Loco,” “My Proud Corazon,” and particularly the reworking of de la Cruz’s signature “Remember Me,” sung by Miguel and Natalia Lafourcade during the end credits, are standouts. Michael Giacchino’s ethereal score is yet another to join some of his most distinct Pixar work. The score is also infused with traditional Mexican music and instrumentals. A mariachi band even plays over the Disney castle and logo at the film’s beginning.

Aside from the music and spectacular visuals, Coco‘s most striking element is its theme of cherishing our families both living and dead. Make no mistake that this film speaks (or sings) to all of us with families, all of us who have lost someone dear, and those of us who need to learn more about the people we come from, long gone and maybe even forgotten, or sadly unknown. I am reminded of something Edward James Olmos, the voice of Hector’s friend Chicharron, recently said about the film and its themes:

“People who see this movie are going to come out really moved, especially when you haven’t thought about your parents or you haven’t thought about your loved ones. You haven’t really gotten into your own family, and you been too busy living your life that you haven’t gone back to even say, ‘Thank you.’ You haven’t been even to the cemetery where they’re buried now for 30 years or 20 years or however long they’ve been away from you.”

Olmos is right. I left the theater feeling immensely moved, thinking especially of two recently departed loved ones. I wondered about those who died before I was born or before I could really know them. And I was reminded about how important it is for me to love and appreciate the family I have with me now.

I am profoundly grateful to Coco for its impact on me, and that it has become a source of pride for Mexican people. Imagine the children who will see themselves reflected in Miguel and know that they can be the heroes of their own stories, and feel proud in their brown skin. For Pixar to celebrate Mexican identities is a very beautiful thing, and I hope this means more of the same with other underrepresented communities in the future. Click here to read reviews of the film from Latino perspectives.

Coco is now playing in theaters nationwideLet it into your hearts and share it with your families this weekend.

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Review: The Art of Coco

Adrian Molina, Art, Art Of:, Coco, Lee Unkrich

Posted by Simoa • October 28, 2017

When I visited Pixar in August, there was dozens of Coco artwork lining the walls that I wanted to hang up on my own walls at home. The art and animation presentations also featured bold and visually striking pieces that I could have ogled for hours. Now that the art book has been released, we can all get our fill of the film’s mesmerizing art. But you should wait until after the film is released to read the whole thing!

Released by Chronicle Books on October 10th, The Art of Coco, with a foreword by John Lasseter and introductions by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina, will indeed be a treasured addition to any collection. Pixar films routinely deal with death, but Coco will transport audiences to a world where death is linked to life. However, this is not a story about mourning. Unkrich and his team took so much care to authentically portray Mexico’s Dia de Los Muertos holiday, which is both a remembrance of departed loved ones and a celebration of life.

The Art of Coco is yet another celebration of Mexico, its people, and its culture.

Numerous pieces of concept art, sketches, and clay models are included, as well as storyboards and the breathtaking color scripts. Color is what makes The Art of Coco so appealing; it’s saturated with it. Deep, vivid hues of red, orange, and yellow fill the book, as well as warm tones and color palettes. All of this, combined with lush digital paintings, make the artwork come alive on the page. Now imagine seeing it all in motion on the big screen.

Sharon Calahan, digital

Along with the dazzling artwork are photographs taken during the research trips to Mexico. The crew members snapped photos of the people they met, as well as the gorgeous scenery and Dia de Los Muertos celebrations.

Art of books function as learning tools for animated films and this one is no different. The artists detail their processes from character design to lighting to storyboards. These insights help animation fans broaden their knowledge and their appreciation. The amount of meticulous and precise details just can’t be overstated, especially with a film like Coco. The sheer breadth of the land of the dead alone is astounding.

Tom Gately, china marker/pencil/digital

But it’s not only the artists who have a space in The Art of Coco. Because the film is centered on Dia de Los Muertos, the cultural consultants who were hired provide more background on certain customs and traditions. Their expertise was not only an asset for the film’s accuracy and respect; it informed the story as well.

Zaruhi Galstyan, digital

Much of the crew aiding Lee Unkrich on his vision are Mexican, including co-director Adrian Molina, who shares a songwriting and screenplay credit. Molina and the other artists, like character art director Daniel Arriaga, sketch artist Ana Ramirez and character modeling artist Alonso Martinez, drew from their own experiences, family, and heritage to shape Miguel’s journey. One of the many joys in poring over this book was reading about their pride at being involved and sharing a bit of themselves. It’s evident, as Lee Unkrich writes in the introduction, that this is both a personal and a universal film.

The Art of Coco is overflowing with stunning imagery and is an excellent companion to the film.

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Coco’s Morelia Film Festival Premiere

Adrian Molina, Coco, Lee Unkrich

Posted by Simoa • October 22, 2017

Today, Coco is now officially one month away from release! However, the film had its grand debut at the Morelia International Film Festival this past Friday. As we previously reported back in July, Morelia was most deserving to hold the premiere, as Coco is a love letter to Mexico. The film will premiere to the rest of Mexico on October 27th.

We compiled some of the mini reviews of the film in last week’s round up post following the wrap party. Now the latest reviews are in post Morelia, praising the film’s strengths and thoughtfully examining the shortcomings. We strongly recommend reading these first reviews, as they provide ample reason to anticipate Coco even more. Highlights are included below. While there aren’t any major spoilers, we’d advise not reading Variety’s review if you’d rather be surprised when the film opens next month.

Variety:

“In an era when young people are so easily seduced by celebrity, “Coco” reveals the emptiness of such adulation, poignantly teaching kids to preserve and respect the memory of their elders while reminding them that the source of true creativity is so often personal.”

The Hollywood Reporter:

“Delivering a universal message about family bonds while adhering to folkloric traditions free of the watering down or whitewashing that have often typified Americanized appropriations of cultural heritage, the gorgeous production also boasts vibrant visuals and a peerless voice cast populated almost entirely by Mexican and Latino actors.”

The Wrap:

“Visually, “Coco” is a swirling, vibrantly hued artistic achievement. It’s everything from a sepia-tinted memory book come to heart-tugging life to a pulsating multi-tinted mural. The stellar design team and animators find room for both the sun-kissed verisimilitude of a homey pueblo, and the razzle-dazzle of elaborately designed folk-art animals called alebrijasthat become flying, hot-colored spirit creatures in the Land of the Dead.”

Vanity Fair was also effusive in its praise, drawing a connection to real life politics with director Lee Unkrich and co-director Adrian Molina offering their own thoughts. Gael García Bernal, who voices Miguel’s guide, Hector, spoke of his pride in co-starring:

“I’m excited to show this very special film and to tell the world about the Mexican culture and our traditions. It’s incredible and an important moment. There’s a lot of emotion, and it’s beautiful that the film truthfully tells the story of life and death and the identities of being a Mexican in a positive and human way.”

As reported by Variety, Coco was met with a strong emotional response. Lee Unkrich spoke of the tearful gratitude the film elicited from the Mexican audience at Morelia, noting “That was the biggest thing: people were just so proud, they expressed to us that we had gotten it right, that we had made a respectful, accurate job.” Filmmaker Carlos Cauron, also in attendance with his brother Alfonso, expressed his hope that Coco would be a worldwide box office success.

Read more about the Morelia Festival here, which takes place in a city renowned for its Day of the Dead celebrations.

We’re more than heartened to hear that this first audience has embraced Coco so enthusiastically and that the film is a source of pride. We hope you’ll join us in eagerly awaiting the film on Thanksgiving!

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New Coco Clip Released: Rescue and Reunion in the Land of the Dead

Adrian Molina, Coco, Lee Unkrich, Trailer

Posted by Nia • October 20, 2017

Alas! A brand new clip has been released from Coco, Pixar’s upcoming film.

It’s a brilliant clip, but it’s also full of a few spoilers. You can watch the clip at the link below, in one of Pixar’s recent Tweets.

In the clip you will see a charming little musical number done by Miguel, some more gorgeous designs of the Land of the Dead, and Miguel FINALLY interacting with Ernesto de la Cruz.

Pixar, you’re killing us with these clips! Luckily November 22nd is almost a month away!

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Coco Exclusives: Research and New Movie clip

Adrian Molina, Coco, Lee Unkrich

Posted by Simoa • October 18, 2017

There are two elements of the filmmaking process that Pixar prioritizes above all else – story and research. They are famed for both, and Coco is the latest film to rely extensively on research. As they did in 2012 with Brave, a team was assembled for a research trip, this time to Mexico. A new featurette was released yesterday about the Mexico trip and demonstrates their commitment to authenticity. Watch the video below.

But that’s not all! You can also watch the “Mariachi Plaza” scene that features Abuelita in all her fearsome, chancla wielding glory! This is an extended clip that’s appeared briefly in earlier trailers and videos. Although Abuelita dominates this scene, Miguel earns our sympathy as he wistfully shares his dream to someday become a musician.

Both of these clips succeed in communicating Pixar’s dedication to research and story. Keep an eye out for more previews!

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The Story of Coco: Finding Miguel’s Passion

Adrian Molina, Coco, Pixar

Posted by Simoa • September 9, 2017

“Pixar movies are always meant to be.”

Director Lee Unkrich and Co-Director Adrian Molina during a Coco art review on February 18, 2016 at Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif. (Photo by Deborah Coleman / Pixar)

A truer statement can’t be made about the animation studio and its films. During my August visit, learning about the upcoming Coco through various presentations proved to be immensely rewarding as well as informative. Co-director Adrian Molina and lead story artist Dean Kelly led the presentation for The Story of Coco.

COCO – Concept art by Armand Baltazar and John Nevarez. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Research is always a necessary component to Pixar films, and in some cases, research trips too. As with 2012’s Brave, with Scotland as the destination, the film crew traveled to Mexico in order to make the film and its depiction of Dia de Los Muertos as authentic as possible. They studied the customs of the holiday and found that the traditions were built into the film on a fundamental level.

Members of the Latino community visit Pixar Animation Studios on May 12, 2016, for a roundtable session with Coco filmmakers. (Photo: Virginia Mae Rollison / Pixar)

The initial seed of the film was planted in 2011. The basic premise was that of a boy trapped in the Land of the Dead. Like the most bold of ideas, this was one story that could only be told through the vibrant medium of animation. The one major challenge that arose was communicating Miguel’s passion for music. As Molina pointed out, Pixar artists could relate to Miguel. That passion for something he loves is what they feel innately. Molina added a personal touch to the film, drawing on his own experiences as a young boy fascinated by animation.

Molina used to watch old Disney shows that explained the process of animation. He recorded them painstakingly and watched them repeatedly, teaching himself before the age of the internet. This personal touch informed Miguel’s own journey. He has a VHS tape of Ernesto de La Cruz interviews and clips that he watches often and in secret, away from his family. Once this touch was added, the response from the brain trust meetings were more favorable and enthusiastic. The story team overcame the hurdle of making Miguel’s desire palpable to the audience.

COCO – Concept art by Zaruhi Galstyan. ©2017 Disney•Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

Music is the air Miguel breathes. He’s not meant to join the family business. In fact, Coco mirrors another Pixar film, La Luna. The struggle for him to pursue his passion against family tradition is sure to play out just as beautifully.

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Meet Hector, The Skeleton With A Big Heart

Adrian Molina, Coco, Lee Unkrich

Posted by Nia • August 21, 2017

Since Coco was announced, which itself feels like many moons ago, there has been loads of anticipation for the film and the Dia de los Muertos story it promises audiences. In a recent article released by Entertainment Weekly, they revealed more about Hector, one of the supporting characters who’s going to take the film by storm. When Miguel accidentally enters the Land of the Dead, it’s Hector who helps guide him through the world.

Hector is voiced by Mexican actor Gael García Bernal, and Coco is Gael’s first time doing voice over work for animation and even singing on film. He was initially drawn towards this project due to Pixar’s strong storytelling techniques and the fact they’re tackling such a huge Mexican tradition.

“Dealing with a tradition that is very generous and very open, you can have many points of view and many takes on that tradition, and I was really curious what type of approach they were going to have, but the one they’re going for is fantastic. The filmmakers have done a really great job in doing a big investigation and an amalgam of different traditions that go on in different parts of Mexico, but also explaining that it’s not about establishing one single way of celebrating the Day of the Dead. There are many ways, and Coco, the way they approach it, is a really beautiful one.”

Not only was the story a large part of Gael accepting the project, but he was also inspired by the character he was going to bring to life. Hector is unique to the previous roles that Gael is famous for, such as Rodrigo in Mozart in the Jungle and Julio in Y Tu Mamá También.

“He’s almost like Baloo in The Jungle Book — he’s a confident and fun guy to be with, but at the same time, he’s having a very deep existential problem. He’s living an interesting dichotomy in the Land of the Dead. We’re at a turning point where most men want to be close to their kids, and this is something that three generations ago wasn’t incorporated in society. The man was at work, then would enjoy the kids, but it wasn’t like they had that emotional, physical, and practical need to be close to the kids. But now we do experience that — me, as a son, and as a father, I can tell you, you want to be close to your kids. And this is something that the character is going through. Little by little you start to understand the battle he’s been fighting. Finding points of encounter between something you enjoy doing or something that you love, like music, and the time that the family requires. It’s almost like a crisis point. It’s something we’re all finding ways how to make that better. That’s Hector’s spiritual beginning, or his departure point when this film starts.”

From all of the trailers and the recent content that’s been released from Pixar, it’s obvious that Coco is going to have a strong focus on family, especially one’s ancestry and learning to appreciate where one has come from.

“What’s so fantastic about this movie is that it really taps into interesting critical points of our understanding of our existence as a collective, and one of them is the family aspect. In general, the family conversation has become incredibly fluid. It can turn into different shapes and forms, and we’re trying to talk about and establish new ways of how a family can be. At the same time, there is something really, really deep inside of this question that family is the foundation of our society. In a sense, we’re questioning the family as a concept and as an end, and that’s something that is really interesting and pushes the audience’s appreciation about these issues.”

We’re incredibly excited at Upcoming Pixar to be immersed in the music and culture that is just bursting through the images in all of the Coco designs. The film is set to premiere in cinemas this November 22nd.

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