'Coco' Makes Moviegoers Proud To Be Mexican Pixar's newest movie is meant to be a love letter to Mexico. Coco has an all-Latino cast, it's packed with references to Mexican culture, and it went right to No. 1 at the Mexican box office.
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Mexico, Music And Family Take Center Stage In 'Coco'

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Mexico, Music And Family Take Center Stage In 'Coco'

Mexico, Music And Family Take Center Stage In 'Coco'

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Pixar's newest animated movie "Coco" is meant to be a love letter to Mexico. It is filled with Mexican music images and folklore, including some of the traditions of the Day of the Dead holiday.

(SOUNDBITE OF MICHAEL GIACCHINO'S "COCO - DIA DE LOS MUERTOS SUITE")

MARTIN: The movie premiered in Mexico, where it's gone on to become the No. 1 film of all time. Now audiences in the U.S. can see it in theaters this week, just in time for another holiday - Thanksgiving. NPR's Mandalit del Barco tells us more.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: "Coco" celebrates Mexico, musica y familia - Mexico, music and family. The story follows 12-year-old Miguel Rivera, who yearns to be a great musician, but he has to hide his ambition and his guitar from his family of shoemakers who don't approve.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

ANTHONY GONZALEZ: (As Miguel Rivera) I know I'm not supposed to love music.

RENEE VICTOR: (As Abuelita) No music. No music.

DEL BARCO: His abuelita even raises her chancla - her sandal - when he dares to dream.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

GONZALEZ: (As Miguel Rivera) But my great-grandma Coco's father was the greatest musician of all time.

ANA OFELIA MURGUIA: (As Mama Coco) Papa...

DEL BARCO: The fictional Ernesto de La Cruz, voiced by Benjamin Bratt, was a famous singer and actor from Mexico's golden age of cinema.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

BENJAMIN BRATT: (As Ernesto de la Cruz, singing) Remember me. Though I have to say goodbye, remember me. Don't let it make you cry.

DEL BARCO: This catchy anthem was written by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, the duo that penned Oscar-winning songs from the movie "Frozen." Remembering family is a recurring theme of "Coco." Miguel begins his big adventure on Dia de los Muertos - Day of the Dead. At the town cemetery, he visits de la Cruz's altar and soon finds himself in the colorful afterlife.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Welcome to the land of your ancestors.

ALFONSO ARAU: (As Papa Julio) Miguel?

SELENE LUNA: (As Tia Rosita) We're your family.

GONZALEZ: (As Miguel Rivera) You're skeletons.

DEL BARCO: Miguel teams up with one mischievous skeleton named Hector. In both the English and Spanish versions, he's voiced by Gael Garcia Bernal. Hector breaks down the most important rule of the land of the dead.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

GAEL GARCIA BERNAL: (As Hector) When there's no one left in the living world who remembers you, you disappear from this world.

DEL BARCO: So Miguel races to get back to his family's altar. This is not the first animated musical Day of the Dead movie. Jorge Gutierrez's "The Book Of Life" came out in 2014. As in that film, "Coco" is filled with Mexican cultural references and folklore, from its opening titles crafted as papel picado to cartoon caricatures of artist Frida Kahlo and Mexican wrestler Santo. A bridge of marigold pedals connects to the land of the dead, a floating metropolis layered atop ancient Mesoamerican pyramids. Flying all around are colorful alebrijes, mythical spirit creatures.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LEE UNKRICH: And we hope that our audience and those communities feel like we got it right.

DEL BARCO: Co-director Lee Unkrich says the filmmakers went to great lengths to make sure the depictions were culturally authentic and respectful. He and his Pixar crew of artists spent six years traveling to Mexico for inspiration, going into people's homes, visiting plazas and mercados, attending Day of the Dead festivities. But as they were kicking around ideas for a title, parent company Disney got in a lot of heat for filing to trademark Dia de los Muertos.

UNKRICH: There was a mistake in kind of registering that title. It was something that happened that we regret deeply because it was completely antithetical to what we were trying to do. We were trying to do everything right and reach out to the community, but it also ended up being a bit of a wake-up call for us to, like, step up our efforts even more.

DEL BARCO: They ended up hiring a small group of cultural consultants including Lalo Alcaraz. The well-known Chicano cartoonist publicly poked fun at Disney's misstep. He even led a small online protest. Alcaraz thinks he and the other consultants accomplished their mission to keep "Coco" from being whitewashed.

LALO ALCARAZ: We'd go to screenings. We'd talk about the dialogue, you know, give suggestions. Pixar was already bending over backwards to make sure it was culturally true, and they did a good job. And they were smart to listen to the screaming cholo.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "COCO")

GONZALEZ: (As Miguel Rivera, vocalizing).

DEL BARCO: "Coco" has a Latino cast of voices, including actress Ana Ofelia Murguia, comedian Herbert Siguenza, director Luis Valdez and 12-year-old Anthony Gonzalez, who plays Miguel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UN POCO LOCO")

GONZALEZ: (Singing) You make me un poco loco, un poquititito (ph) loco. The way you keep me guessing, I'm nodding and I'm yessing. I'll count it as a blessing that I'm only un poco loco.

DEL BARCO: The soundtrack includes many genres - son jarocho, banda, mariachi, huapango and modern Mexican electronic music. DJ and producer Camilo Lara from the group Mexican Institute of Sound was "Coco's" music consultant. He helped gather musicians for scoring sessions in Mexico City.

CAMILO LARA: They are, like, la creme de la creme from Mexico.

DEL BARCO: Lara worked with composer Germaine Franco to create a sonic soundscape.

GERMAINE FRANCO: Taking the care to animate all the musicians - every movement is pretty exquisite - the animation.

DEL BARCO: Franco wrote some of the lyrics along with "Coco's" co-director Adrian Molina, a Mexican-American artist who also helped write the movie. Molina says he hopes the story inspires audiences to look up their own family lore.

ADRIAN MOLINA: ...To call up the oldest person in their family and have them tell stories of the oldest person they remember from their family.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RECUERDAME")

CARLOS RIVERA: (Singing) Recuerdame.

DEL BARCO: "Coco" had a splashy opening in Mexico City's historic Palacio de Bellas Artes last month complete with the National Symphony Orchestra and singer Carlos Rivera. Mexican audiences have been enthusiastic. The movie's been No. 1 at the box office.

ROSALIA ARCHITRADE: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: "Bring a handkerchief because you will cry," advises moviegoer Rosalia Architrade after watching "Coco" at a theater in Mexico City. She says the film made her proud of being Mexican.

ARCHITRADE: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: She thanks the filmmakers for believing in her heritage. In that sense, some reviewers have called "Coco" rebellious, even subversive, for celebrating Mexican culture in the current political climate. At a time when President Trump is trying to build his wall between the countries, musician Camilo Lara says the movie sends an alternative vision.

LARA: This is showing the Mexico I like, the Mexico that is creative, and fun, and exciting, and full of culture and color and not the Mexico full of violence and the narco Mexico.

DEL BARCO: At the Hollywood premiere, Gael Garcia Bernal said he dedicated "Coco" to Latino children enduring the false narrative that their families are rapists, murderers or drug traffickers.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GARCIA BERNAL: A 4-year-old kid, 5-year-old kid that is growing right now in the United States is growing up in a state of fear, you know? And this film will help for this kid to feel - and, you know, empower them and to make them feel that they have a much more complex culture.

DEL BARCO: With all of its music, and folklore, and artwork and the story itself, audiences so far feel "Coco" respects their families, living and remembered.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REMEMBER ME (LULLABY)")

GAEL GARCIA BERNAL, GABRIELLA FLORES AND LIBERTAD GARCIA FONZI: (Singing) Remember me.

DEL BARCO: Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BENJAMIN BRATT'S "REMEMBER ME (ERNESTO DE LA CRUZ)")

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