Disney Pixar’s new animated movie, Coco, spotlights a young boy in Mexico named Miguel (voiced by Anthony Gonzalez). He dreams about becoming a great musician and singer, like his idol the late Ernesto de la Cruz (voiced by Benjamin Bratt, Doctor Strange, Star). But his hopes are destroyed by his own family, who forbids music.
The movie is set during Mexico’s celebration of Dia de los Muertos. Here Miguel’s impulsive actions spark a mysterious event that takes him to the Land of the Dead. It is populated by generations of skeletons, including Miguel’s ancestors, where he searches for Ernesto de la Cruz. Along the way, he meets Hector (voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal, Mozart in the Jungle, Y Tu Mama) who promises to help him on his journey.
The movie was co-directed by Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina and produced by Darla K Anderson. Lee Unkrich, Benjamin Bratt and Gael Garcia Bernal were part of the press conference at the Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, where they spoke about the movie.
Coco opens on November 22nd 2017 for the Thanksgiving Day weekend. The film short Olaf’s Frozen Adventure being screened with it.
Coco - Director Lee Unkrich
Coco – Director Lee Unkrich taking part in the Walt Disney Studios animation presentation on July 14th 2017. This was at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2017 in Anaheim, California. ©2017 Disney, photo by Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images

Lee, going back to the beginning, how did this project get started?

Lee Unkrich: Darla, Adrian, and I all worked on Toy Story III together. When we finished that film, I started to think about what was next. I had a few different ideas that I was kicking around. One of them was the idea of telling a story set against Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).

I had always been interested in the tradition [and] spent some time doing research, trying to understand more than I already knew. I learned about how central family is to this celebration; Dia de los Muertos is all about this obligation that we all have to remember our loved ones, and to pass their stories along.

Coco - Actors Benjamin Bratt and Anthony Gonzale
Coco – Actors Benjamin Bratt and Anthony Gonzale taking part on July 14th 2017 in the Walt Disney Studios animation presentation. This was at Disney’s D23 EXPO 2017 in Anaheim, California. ©2017 Disney, photo by Alberto E Rodriguez/Getty Images

Benjamin, can you talk a little about Ernesto de la Cruz, who you voice in the movie?

Benjamin Bratt: De la Cruz himself is a complex character, arguably even more famous in the Land of the Dead than he was while alive. And of course, like any great star, he eats the attention up; he’s come to rely on it.

Coco - Gael García Bernal
Coco – Gael García Bernal who voices the trickster Hector ©2017 Disney•Pixar

Gael, what was it like for you to be a part of this movie that is so close to Mexican culture?

Gael Garcia Bernal: To do a project that is such a complex and transversal story, which also happens to take place in Mexico, where I’m from, was just amazing. Everything appealed to me: the music, the color, the story, the characters.

When I was a kid, I was struck by Baloo (the bear from The Jungle Book) and his laid-back philosophy on life. And I feel that in many ways, Hector doesn’t hold onto frustrations, prejudices or resentment.

The main theme to the movie is family. Were you able to relate to that aspect of it?

Benjamin: As a boy growing up, family was the center of my universe. My mother constantly reminded us of the sacrifice her grandmother made to bring her to the US.

(My) Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins emerged as characters in the stories she would share with us. (They were) unmet family members we felt we knew simply from my mother’s fond remembrance of them.

Coco - Voices; Benjamin Bratt and Anthony Gonzalez
Coco – Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt) and Miguel (voice of Anthony Gonzalez) ©2017 Disney•Pixar

What would you like the audience to take away from this movie?

Lee: I think there’s something that’s really beautiful about Miguel’s story, and the point that he is in his life. Sometimes it takes a long time to learn the value of the things that your parents have to teach you. Sometimes it’s a struggle to realize why that applies to your life.

As you grow older, you really begin to understand and respect the sacrifices that are made for you, and you want to find a way to say thank you for all of the things that the previous generations have struggled to provide for you.

I think, Miguel, over the course of the night, grows dramatically. Hopefully, children and parents notice that, and it (starts a conversation) about the things that we’re thankful for. The fact that (the movie) comes out at Thanksgiving in the United States is a perfect opportunity for families to discuss that.

Gael: This film is for kids; (for) the Latino kids growing up in the United States, (where) it’s been said that their parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents are rapists, murderers, drug traffickers.

All these kids are being born in a moment of huge fear, and they have to fight against the lie. And this film is gonna give kids a way to feel confident (about) where they come from; where their parents and grandparents come from. (It’s important) to know that they come from a very sophisticated culture. This film opens up that discussion. It is a beautiful reflection on death, and the celebration of life.

Coco - Poster
Coco – Poster ©2017 Disney•Pixar

Coco Videobytes

Before the press conference began, Disney provided the perfect entertainment to get the journalists into the mood of the movie – click here to watch part of the performance.
Benjamin Bratt was asked about a report that he also based his character on his father – click her to watch his reply.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.