What do you do when your deepest passion conflicts with a multi-generational belief that your family was cursed by that very same passion? That is exactly the battle Miguel Rivera, Pixar's title character, faces in Coco as he stumbles into the Land of the Dead and struggles to get home before times runs out.
In a pair of recent articles from Entertainment Weekly and Vanity Fair (along with tweets from Director, Lee Unkrich) we now have even more details regarding the film which dives into Miguel's passion for music and his family's cursed beliefs surrounding the art form. Miguel's family banned music (even though they live in a music-loving town) because Miguel's Great-Great-Grandmother (Imelda) was left to raise her family on her own after Ernesto de la Cruz abandoned Imelda to pursue his passion of performing.
Although Miguel comes from a family of shoemakers, he soon learns of his familial connection to his musical idol, Ernesto, and breaks into his mausoleum (on the eve of Dia de los Muertos) to borrow de la Cruz's famed skull guitar to enter a talent competition — hoping to change his family's mind about music. This is where the story takes a twist because as soon as Miguel touches the guitar, he becomes (as the Vanity Fair article notes) "something of a living ghost", where his living family can no longer see him, but he can now interact with his dead ancestors (who look like fantastically decorated skeletons).
Once in the underworld, Miguel gets to meet with several members of his family, including Imelda (his Great-Great-Grandmother) and decides to seek out de la Cruz himself for answers on how to fix the curse on his family. Miguel's companion during his adventure in the underworld is Hector, a skeletal trickster who, as we gather, is full of comedic relief. Both articles also highlight the beauty of the underworld noting that it is "a dazzlingly vibrant, stacked metropolis inspired by the Mexican city of Guanajuato".
Additional insights note that Unkrich and the team spent a considerable amount of time creating the look of the skeletons since there were moments of emotional connection.
...These figures were carefully designed to maximize that famous Pixar emotional impact. “I knew at one point in the film [that] I was going to be in a tight close-up of a skeleton, and it was going to be a really emotional moment,” Unkrich says, explaining why his skeletons have eyeballs and lifelike features. “And I needed the audience to be able to connect with that character in a way [that] they forget they were watching animation. They forgot they were watching a skeleton. They were just seeing a soul.”
Miguel Rivera - voiced by Anthony Gonzalez. Unkrich noted that Anthony was selected as the scratch (temporary) vocal artist after a multi-national search of hundreds of children (and who replaced the original scratch actor who is now 17 or 18).
Hector - voiced by Gael García Bernal. In this photo tweeted by Lee, we see Gael at work in the vocal booth for the film. Hector, a friendly and trickster-style spirit, is Miguel's skeletal companion on his journey in the land of the dead.
Ernesto de la Cruz - voiced by Benjamin Bratt. Ernesto, a deceased film and music star is linked to Miguel's family and is Miguel's idol. The interview noting Benjamin's involvement in the film can be seen here.
Abuelita (Granny) - voiced by Renée Victor. Miguel's Grandmother.
The vocal actors for Miguel's Great-Great-Grandmother (Imelda) and Great-Grandmother (nicknamed "Mama Coco" and shown in the concept art at the top of the post) were not revealed at this time.
OUR THOUGHTS & QUESTIONS
A few things came to our minds after reading more about the details revealed today. Most notably, the film's title came to mind — Coco. In folklore, the character of Coco could be most closely tied to the Boogyman, but it has also been linked to an irrational or exaggerated fear. Could the title mirror the irrational fear, or curse that the Rivera family believes it has on it and Miguel will help them realize it's not rational to ban music? It should also be noted that the woman in the concept artwork is his great-grandmother, nicknamed "Mama Coco", but does this parallel of her name also run through the "irrational" theme?
Also, there is a mention of Miguel having to get back to the Land of the Living before time runs out. Is time running out tied to the talent competition Miguel wants to enter, or can Miguel only stay in his "living dead" state for so long before he'll automatically return (i.e., Cinderella's pumpkin)?
What are your thoughts? Leave a comment below, or chat about it with other fans in the Pixar Post Forum.
Also, for additional insights into the consulting team Pixar utilized, animation tests and more, check out the full Vanity Fair article.
Pixar Post - T.J. & Julie