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Pixar’s ‘Coco’ Moves Morelia to Tears

Security measures were tight at the glittering Mexican debut

MORELIA, Mexico – “Coco” took six longer-than-average years to make, but its directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina and producer Darla Anderson were finally rewarded for their efforts when they stepped out at the Day of the Dead-themed toon’s world premiere at the 15th Morelia International Film Fest Friday night.

“It was lovely,” said Unkrich, who recalled how the trio was mobbed “by so many people who were so emotional, many with tears in their eyes, thanking us for making this movie, for putting a positive vision of Mexico out to the world.”

“That was the biggest thing: people were just so proud, they expressed to us that we had gotten it right, that we had made a respectful, accurate job,” he said. Security was tight for the one-off premiere, with audience members required to seal their phones in special pouches and submit to metal detector inspections.

The story of a young boy of 12 who aspires to be a musician despite his family’s opposition will bow first across Mexico on Oct. 27, in time for the Day of the Dead holidays, before it rolls out in the U.S. and subsequent overseas territories starting Nov. 22. The movie will be translated into some 47 languages, said Unkrich.

“We hope ‘Coco’ works at the box office worldwide,” said helmer-scribe Carlos Cuaron. “This is about Mexicans’ love for family, our traditions, our culture; we want people to know we’re not just about corrupt politicians, Narcos, and earthquakes,” said the writer, who participated as a mentor at the inaugural Sundance Lab in Morelia, and who will co-present a re-screening — with his brother Alfonso — of the iconic film they co-penned, “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” at the fest.

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Asked if he thought Pixar’s most culturally specific film would resonate with U.S. and global audiences, co-director-scribe Molina said, “There’s a certain universality in specificity. When they see this particular family and their traditions, people lean in because they’re interested and they open their hearts because there’s a universal message about family.”

The power of music and how it rekindles memory was also a vital thematic device in the animated feature. Anderson and Lee recalled the research that this entailed, including studying the findings of British neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose memoir inspired Penny Marshall’s acclaimed feature “Awakenings” and the documentary “Alive Inside,” in which Alzheimer’s patients “come back to life” upon listening to music on headphones.

Music complements what Unkrich deems the “bedrock” of the story: the widespread belief that a person undergoes three deaths: the first when the heart stops beating, the second when the person is buried and the “most meaningful and most powerful final death: when no one is left in the living world who remembers you.”

Unkrich first got his idea to make “Coco” when visiting the Mexican pavilion at the Epcot Center in Disney World. Asked what will inspire his next project, the director drew a blank. “We just finished ‘Coco’ a few weeks ago, so am focusing on this.”

“Maybe he needs another trip to Disney World,” quipped Anderson.

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