It is quite a privilege to be invited to a press junket, so I was delighted to partake in Disney’s latest for the Pixar ‘s Coco events. The PixarCoco presentations were spread over two days. The first day we attended the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The following day we were invited to a Q&A with the creators and stars of the movie at the posh Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California.
Coco tells the story of a young boy, Miguel, who dreams of becoming a musician like his hero Ernesto de la Cruz. The problem is his music-hating family strongly disapproves.
In fact, after his great great grandfather left to pursue a musical career his great-great-grandmother banished music from the house!
The movie starts with Miguel’s struggle during the Day of the Dead when he hopes to participate in the festivities and appear in the village square.
However, the real action ensues when Miguel mistakenly finds himself in the Land of the Dead. He befriends a trickster skeleton named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) and even meets his dead hero, de la Cruz. His adventure helps him learn about his ancestors and the importance of family in general.
The storyline about a youngster pursuing his dreams and bonding with family has universal appeal. But Pixar’s Coco is much more than that.
The movie is excellent at giving a voice to the Latino culture and community. In fact, The film creators have gone to many lengths to portray Mexican culture and customs with the utmost respect.
Needless to mention we loved the movie ( look for a separate post about the film) and looked forward to the press conference to hear from its creators and stars.
The Press conference
The following day, the press junket was held at the Beverly Hills that has hosted many entertainment events. The area had three different areas. The conference section had a stage with the long table and chairs facing the reporters. Then there were two rooms with snacks, beverages as well as activities.
Ancestry .com gave attendees free memberships so we could trace our heritage. I was a bit bummed to discover when I couldn’t find much information about my ancestors in Germany and Austria.But on the upside, I got to trace my husband’s family four generations back which was fascinating.
Attendees could get a brief guitar lesson ( thanks to Guitar Center) and make colorful paper cutouts that are traditional for Dia de Los Muertos. After trying both, I can tell you both take quite a bit of practice to master.
And then there were the photo ops that was perfect for bloggers. A selfie station as well as a place to create a short video lip singing to one of the movie’s songs. As some of you can see– I totally missed my calling as a rock star!
But the main event was meeting the people behind the movie!
The press conference started with live music that included a mariachi band and four folkloric dancers.
Next came the Q&A with the celebrities. Apart from directors Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina and producer Darla K Anderson we got to meet actors Alanna Ubach (Mama Imelda), Benjamin Pratt (De la Cruz), Gael Garcia Bernal (Hector), Anthony Gonzales (Miguel) and Edward James Olmos (Chicharron.)
More than merely celebrating Mexican heritage, Coco comes at a rocky time for US Mexican relations. President Trump’s declarations of restricting immigration and building a wall between the two countries have brought the relationship between the neighboring countries to a new low. At the event, the film’s stars voiced their hope that this movie will improve audiences’ understanding of Mexico’s culture and traditions, as well as help, understand its people better.
The movie creators made multiple trips to Mexico to complete the research needed for the movie.
According to Director Lee Unkrich, the crew ‘”knew from the beginning that (they) wanted to (create) a film …with an all-Latino cast…that wouldn’t have any clichés or stereotypes and would be as respectful as possible.”
He thought that a story revolving around Dia de Los Muertos would not only be visually dazzling but had the potential to have a real emotional core to it. Moreover, He explained that we all “ have a different relationship to our traditions, depending on what age we’re at.(So)…kids need to learn that to understand and respect the sacrifices previous generations made for them. “As he pointed out Miguel’s journey details his struggle “ to learn the value of the things that…(his) parents have to teach (him), …and (how) that applies to (his ) life.”
The movie’s co-director Adrian Molina chimed in mentioning that working on a film that dealt with family and Mexican traditions had been on his checklist for some time. Furthermore, he was thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with the actors and musicians to bring Mexican culture to life on the big screen.
Producer Darla Anderson added that she would like the movie to get young kids thinking about their ancestors as a way to connect with their family.
Gael Garcia Bernal mentioned how this movie would give Latino kids in the US a way to feel confident about themselves
Gael Garcia Bernal plays Hector a mischievous but lovable wanderer. He said he was “ proud, and lucky to be part of this collaborative effort.” He continued to describe Coco as “ a little fable about a mythology, and a tradition that I hold very dearly …and that Mexico can give to the world,”
He proceeded to dedicate this film ” to the Latino kids growing in the United States because, in the official narrative, it’s been said that their parents, or grandparents, or great-grandparents are rapists, murderers, drug traffickers.” He expressed his hope that “This film is gonna give kids a way to feel confident of where they come from,…they should … know that they come from a very sophisticated culture .”
Anthony Gonzales’ used his grandfather as inspiration
When asked how he liked working on Coco newcomer star Anthony Gonzales said it was not only fun but easy with the guidance of the directors and the film’s producer.
He went on to share an interesting tidbit about how his character got to sing in the movie. It turns out that though the storyline described Miguel as a budding musician, it wasn’t clear whether he was going to sing in the film.
But all that changed when Anthony sang a cappella for the creators during one of his auditions. As Lee Ubach put it, “once we knew he could sing we tried to take full advantage of his talents.”
When asked about his inspiration Anthony mentioned his own grandfather who passed away when he was six years old and who had supported him in his music career. So “ every time I would come to sing the songs, it would remind me of him, make me feel like he was there… present with me. “
Benjamin Pratt modeled his character after his ‘larger than life’ dad
Benjamin Pratt plays the part of Ernesto de la Cruz singer and film star who suffers an untimely death. According to Pratt, he modeled Ernesto by he combining memories of his dad who “was larger than life at 6’3”, the kind of person that no matter which room he walked into, he commanded attention” with mannerisms of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete and the writers’ description of the singer.
Llorona holds a special meaning for Alanna Ubach
Alana who portrays kick- ass Mother Imelda in the movie shared how emotional her mom and husband became when they watched Coco. She added that incorporating the famous song Llorona in the movie had a special meaning for her. It turns out her mother used to sing it as a lullaby for her when she was young.Her segment in the movie singing this song was one of our favorites!
Edward James Olmos believes that Coco will change the perception of people about Mexico
Edward James Olmos has a brief but memorable role in the movie as Cicherron. He recalled how the movie creators first approached him about participating in the production. “They invited me to come up to Pixar. And they said that they were doing this film, and they wanted to ask me my opinion about it. When they asked me to play the role, I was honored.”
He went on to describe how emotional he became when he finally got to see the actual movie. “An amazing feeling came across immediately – the quality was superb; the music, the sound – everything. Performances were extraordinary. And as it went along, and my part came in, I said, Oh, my God. I felt emotional for this guy. By the time it got to the end, I was in heaving sobs. “
Describing the movie’s impact Olmos says that” “ People are gonna say thank you to the Mexican culture for introducing them to a value that they did not know anything about. We celebrate Halloween. We dress up, and you know, we go out, and we – “Trick or treat. (In comparison ) … the ‘Day of the Dead’ represents for many of us, a time to pass on stories and celebrate life to its fullest. “
Finally, he touched on the importance of the movie as a way to change the perspective of Americans about Mexicans.
“…You know, the last two years have been very difficult for us. But you know, you try to stay strong. Knowing that the pendulum swung 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. This (movie) placed us in a very strong position for the future. “
Coco is not only a fun movie but helps educate the audience about Mexican culture. As a parent to two sons, the movie story line resonated with me since I’ve tried raise my kids as global citizens .Raising Global citizens means that kids should be exposed to different cultures and traditions to help them understand people from different countries.
Furthermore the ‘ seize the moment’ theme is one that most will identify with. Kids will feel empowered by a new hero who pursues his dream while parents and grandparents will appreciate the lesson it ultimately delivers. Overall, the movie extends beyond the simple entertainment elements to a thought provoking message that can bring and bond generations together.
Disclaimer: Special thanks to Disney Pixar for hosting us on the press junket event. Our opinions are own and cannot be influenced in any way.
COCO fronted by Olaf’s frozen adventure featurette opens in theaters everywhere on November 22nd!
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