Earlier this month, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime – a visit to Pixar! In anticipation of Coco, which will be released in November, Disney invited bloggers and various outlets to the Emeryville studio for a press event on August 3rd and 4th. We got to see the first thirty five minutes of Pixar’s latest Lee Unkrich helmed feature.
Few things can compare to watching a Pixar film in Pixar’s very own theater! As Unkrich announced on twitter recently, Coco is now completed. The version we saw was unfinished. There were completed sequences, rough sketches, and unlighted animation. Yet the film was still engrossing and quite beautiful.
After we settled in our seats, the Disney logo appeared onscreen, its familiar theme played by a mariachi band.
Coco tells the story of twelve year old Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez). The Riveras are shoemakers, a tradition that has been passed down through the generations from matriarch Mama Imelda, Miguel’s great-great grandmother. Miguel is not at all impressed with the family’s chosen occupation. He would have preferred something much more exciting and fun. As we learn at the start of the film, Mama Imelda became a shoemaker in order to support herself and her daughter after her husband abandoned the family for his music career. Miguel explains that she didn’t have time to feel sad or sorry for herself.
But Mama Imelda, stung by her husband’s betrayal, forbids music in the Rivera family. No one is allowed to play or listen to music and certainly not to pursue it for a career. Miguel’s great-great grandfather is also never mentioned or seen; Miguel doesn’t even know his name.
As we arrive in present day Mexico, the no music rule has been strictly enforced by Miguel’s abuelita (Renee Victor). The Riveras are the only family in Mexico that will have nothing to do with music. Perhaps it’s because they fear abuelita’s wrath that the Riveras do not question or challenge the ban on music. They are all content to make shoes. All except Miguel, that is. He desperately wants to become a musician and has taught himself to play the guitar. He’s also built a shrine to his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz.
Once the most popular singer in Mexico, de la Cruz appeared in movies and enjoyed great fame before his untimely death in the 1940s. Miguel is convinced that music is his destiny, the same as it was for de la Cruz. But unfortunately, his secret ambition is revealed to his family.
Coco is a unique film from the start. From just the first half hour, it’s clear that Pixar has crafted another heartwarming portrayal of family life. Though Miguel must hide his passion for music, the Riveras are a close knit bunch. Abuelita is formidable and won’t hesitate to hit someone with her chancla, but she’s a warm, loving grandmother.
Miguel is likable immediately. His desire for music is communicated so strongly that it’s unimaginable that he would make shoes or do anything else. The audience believes that music is part of his destiny as well.
And this is only the Land of the Living. There’s another world in Coco, one bursting with life and color, despite its name. Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead and it’s here that he meets the Rivera family members that have died. They are as funny and vibrant as his living family.
The Land of the Dead is run like a typical government agency, with workers who sit at desks behind computers.
Pixar’s worlds have always been a visual and technical marvel. They’ve captured wonder in worlds both real and imagined. With Coco, Mexico becomes a character too, though it never overwhelms the human ones. We become fully immersed in both worlds of the living and dead, as well as the language, music, and culture.
From what I was lucky enough to see, I am eagerly anticipating the completed film!
I’ll have plenty more posts about my incredible two day trip at Pixar and all that I learned about Coco. Check back here for more!