It was nothing short of a fiesta at the global press day for Disney Pixar’s Coco. Just like at the premiere the night before, a mariachi band and golden flower petals from the enchanting Land of the Dead helped celebrate Latin culture and the film’s release.

From beginning to end, Coco is a visual masterpiece that is accompanied by a touching story which helps celebrate the beauty of honoring our ancestors and the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday. The story is centered around a young boy named Miguel who has dreams of becoming a musician. Despite his family’s lack of support, Miguel sets out to find his birth father who is huge star and will surely support his ambitions. But his journey and the friends (and foes) he encounters along the way will forever change him.

ScreenPicks got to hear from Oscar-winning director Lee Unkrich, producer Darla K. Anderson, screenwriter and co-director Adrian Molina, and the voices behind the characters in the film, including Benjamin Bratt, Anthony Gonzalez, Gael Garcia Bernal, Edward James Olmos, and Alanna Ubach.

Here are 9 things we learned from the cast and filmmakers behind Coco.

On the genesis of Coco and how it all started:

LEE UNKRICH: Darla, and Adrian, and I all worked on Toy Story 3 together. And when we finished that film, I started to think about what was next, and 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 Mortos (Day of the Dead). I had always been interested in the tradition, and I spent some time doing some research, and really trying to understand more than I already knew. The more that I dug in, the more that I learned about how central family is to this celebration, and that Dia de Mortos is, you know, is all about this obligation that we all have to remember our loved ones, and to pass their stories along. I just really started to see the potential to tell a unique story, to tell a story that could only be told in animation, that could be visually dazzling, but also had the potential to have a real emotional core to it. That was really kind of the beginning of this journey. We immediately headed down to Mexico – on the first of what proved to be many lengthy research trips — to spend time learning about the traditions, learning about the culture, and spending a lot of time with many beautiful families down in Mexico.

On being the voice behind the main character of the story, Miguel, and what it was like to have this as his first film:

ANTHONY GONZALEZ: I just really loved the making of it. I loved being with Lee, Darla and Adrian in the booth, and other people. And there was just so much fun, because it was very easy for me because I had the guidance of them three, and it was just – it was like a breeze for me, and it was just so much fun doing the voice of Miguel.

On singing:

GONZALEZ: When I knew that I was gonna sing that day in the booth, I would get so excited, because you know, I love to sing, and especially these wonderful songs… they’re just, they’re just incredible messages. They’re just incredible lyrics… I just love the rhythm, and the melody, and the lyrics, like, “Remember Me” – it’s very sentimental. For me, my grandfather passed away when I was 6-years old, and he was very special to me because he would always support me in my music career. So yeah, every time I would come to sing like, songs, it would remind me of him, and it would make me feel like he was there, and he was present with me.

On voicing Miguel’s friend, Hector:

GAEL GARCIA BERNAL: I mean, it is such a privilege to be here, to be talking about the movie, to know the result of it, because it is always an act of faith in a way, no? When I got the invitation to meet with Lee, with Adrian, and with Darla and talk about the movie, I remember how already I was so convinced about it before going into the meeting with them. After the meeting, I was just amazed by the amount of research and also the incorporation – the kind of holistic approach that they were trying to do to the Day of the Dead celebration, that they were also putting forth a very personal point of view, which is what makes a movie good.

I was willing to jump into that trip and to interpret that point of view. Now the results, it has transcended all my expectations. I’m really happy for, and proud, and lucky to be part of this, with all this great team, with all this collaborative effort, me being a little part of it, being able to put forth, as well, into the world, a little fable about a mythology, and a tradition that I hold very dearly. Very proud, as well, that Mexico can give this to the world, and everyone in the world can adopt this tradition, this reflection on death, which is a very, very important thing to do, I think, in life.

On voicing super star Latino musician Ernesto de la Cruz and where he drew his inspiration from:

BENJAMIN BRATT: The first inspiration you draw from is the image that they create. You know, as actors, we don’t have the benefit of performing with one another. It’s a very kind of isolating experience to be in a booth, with only three other people in the room, and with Lee giving you the lines. I mean, most of what we try to do is create something organic through action and reaction. So with just this to work with, you have to pull on all kinds of other things. So I start with the images they created.

Clearly, this guy, even in a skeleton form, he’s got swagger, you know. So – so it’s easy to kind of adopt that idea, principally. But beyond that, Lee, and Adrian, and Darla pointed me in the direction of studying some of the movie clips of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete. These were film stars, and music stars, in the equivalent strata of someone like Frank Sinatra – guys who were as beloved, and as admired for their singing prowess as they were for their acting chops. And there’s plenty of footage to be found on YouTube, and so I studied that quite a bit. But beyond that, to your question — my own father, who’s now deceased, and who I lost touch with many years before he passed on — I lived with him in some very formative years, from 12 to about 17. Although he was quite a bit different than who Ernesto de la Cruz is, he was larger than life — 6’3”, massive frame, broad shoulders, and a booming voice, and the kind of person that no matter which room he walked into, he commanded attention – and sometimes by saying the wrong things. Nonetheless, it was the kind of thing that I could draw on because it was familiar to me. So in that way, that was kind of like the lynch pin for me, with all this other stuff to create someone that enjoyed that adulation – not only enjoyed it, but they actually used it as his life’s blood.

On his role in the film and how he felt about the message of the film during the current political times:

EDWARD JAMES OLMOS: I mean, every single person in the room that’s seen that movie understands very well that what it means is if you don’t remember your loved ones, they’re gone. If you don’t tell the stories of that loved one, they cease to exist. I hadn’t seen the movie. So they had a screening over at Disney, where my offices are. I walked in, and I sat down, and I would see maybe two Latinos in the entire room. They were all sitting there, and they’re kind of jaded people, you know, and they’re like — you can tell by body language that they were kind of tired, sitting there, waiting and waiting.

Then the movie started, and an amazing feeling came across immediately. The quality was superb — the feeling, the music, the sound, everything. Performances were extraordinary. As it went along, and I said, “Oh, my God,” I felt emotional for this guy. Chicharron became, within a matter of a minute and a half to two minutes, someone that I could identify with — a relative, a friend, a person. Then boom! when he leaves, I was like Miguel. “Where’d he go?”

Then the story started to evolve, and by the time it got to the end, I was in heaving sobs. I mean, harsh, heaving sobs, like one of those kind of things that — not only is pride taken over, because I am Mexican, full-blooded on everybody’s side, not only am I a person who has been inside of this industry for over 50 years, not only have I really tried to understand myself inside of this art form – but this really became something really profound. What ended up happening is that I looked around immediately – these people were all crying, everybody. Everybody was like so intensely, just trying to hold onto it, and wiping their faces, and holding on, and watching the movie. I said, “Hell, this thing just hit everybody like a ton of bricks.

On voicing Mamá Imelda and her emotional reaction to watching the final cut:

ALANNA UBACH: Waterworks. I was sitting in between my husband, and my mother. I told my mother that I had a surprise for her, because she used to sing “Laorona” to me when I was a little girl, in order to make me go to sleep. “Laorona” will put you to sleep if you don’t go to sleep. I kept telling her, “I have this surprise for you.” She said, “Oh, I can’t wait. I love surprises.” And so the lights dim, and she’s watching it, and she sees Coco for the first time, and she says, “Aye, Alanna. You’re Coco.” I’m like, “No, no, no, Mom. Just keep watching.” She said, “Okay.” I watched her cry, like three times, and then Miguel is finally introduced. “Ay, Alanna, you’re Miguel? You’re the voice of Miguel.” I’m like, “No, Mom, keep watching. Keep watching.” And finally “Laorona” came on, and it was just waterworks.

On what they want people to take away from the film:

BRATT: I really, that’s kind of the alchemy that they’ve created, where we all go in with certain, as Gael said, certain expectations, and hopes, and dreams, even, for what the outcome will be. On every level, their artistry, their masterful storytelling just surpassed every expectation. That, in and of itself, was evocative of the emotional response that most of likely had.

DARLA K. ANDERSON: When we make our movies, we make them for everybody — young to old. So what I really want young kids to take away from the film is to be thinking about their ancestors, and think about where they came from. I also want them to have a great time. First I want them to come, and enjoy the film, and have a fabulous time. Then if they watch it multiple times, I want them to be thinking about, hopefully, where they came from, and who their great-grandparents might be, and what their ancestry is. Adrian’s fond of saying he hopes that they’ll all pick up a musical instrument.

ADRIAN MOLINA: We have a different relationship to our traditions, depending on what age we’re at. I think there’s something that’s really beautiful about Miguel’s story, and the point that he is in his life, where you know, sometimes it takes you a long time to learn the value of the things that your parents have to teach you, or that your grandparents have to teach you. Sometimes it’s a struggle to realize why that applies to your life. Miguel, I think is just this really great entry point for kids to just see this transition from, you know, not understanding the value of his family’s traditions, to really opening up and seeing that even when communication is messy, that that love is there, and that as you grow older, you really begin to understand and respect the sacrifices that are made for you, and you want to pay it back; 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. And I think that’s a really good example to have at a young age.

Sometimes it takes people much longer to realize those things. I think Miguel, over the course of the night, grows dramatically, and hopefully, you know, children notice that, and parents notice that, and it allows for just talking about, you know, the things that we’re thankful for. The fact that it comes out at Thanksgiving in the United States I think is a perfect opportunity for families to discuss that.

On what the Latino community will take away from the film:

UBACH: I think it was very important for Pixar to make a movie like this, because what they did was, if anything, was beyond my expectations, obviously, to quote Gael. They painted such an exquisite portrait of the afterlife. You can only hope that — my son, who’s 12 weeks old — when he’s old enough to understand this movie, he can walk away saying, “Mama, I am not afraid of death. I’m not afraid of the afterlife.” What a beautiful world this would be if the afterlife was like this. Could you imagine? And also, that they really did pay such a respect to the one quality that Latin families, Latin American families have across, and that is the importance of familia, and that is something that no presidents, or borders, or politics can ever break – that importance, the importance of familia.

BERNAL: I’ve been saying this a lot, but I really have to stress it over and over again because I have to do a very personal dedication. This film is for the kids, 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. These kids are being born in a moment of huge, complete fear, and they have to fight against the lie, and it’s very complicated to argue against the lie. You know?

This film — or this expression among many other forms of expression that happen day to day — it’s going give kids a way to feel confident of where they come from, of where their parents, great-grandparents, grandparents come from, to know that they come from a very sophisticated culture, and to know that they have the possibility to always have access to that hive. That they can come up with new answers to what’s needed in life that we, as humanity, need right now. This film opens up that discussion, and it is a beautiful reflection on death, and the celebration life.

Coco opens in theaters November 22.

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