Adrian Molina, co-director of “Coco,” had a particular attachment to Disney films well before he began working on them.
The Grass Valley native came to the idea “that someone actually makes these, it’s someone’s job to draw all the drawings and create all the characters and tell the stories,” he said. “And when I figured that out, then it was just like, ‘How do I become that person?’”
“Coco,” the 19th movie from Pixar Animation Studios, opened Wednesday. The film’s co-director is Lee Unkrich (”Toy Story 3”). The film stars Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, Gael García Bernal as Héctor, Benjamin Bratt as Ernesto de la Cruz and Alanna Ubach as Mamá Imelda.
Along with co-directing, Molina penned Coco’s screenplay with Matthew Aldrich.
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Molina joined Pixar in 2006. He worked on “Ratatouille” and “Toy Story 3,” and was a story artist on “Monsters University.” He credits his work as a story artist with easing the transition in his inaugural directorial experience on “Coco.”
“For directing, coming from story, it’s very helpful because it helps to give you a clear mindset in terms of what is important that we’re trying to convey, and what is high priority and what is low priority,” he said.
“Coco” has had a controversial journey. The film drew criticism when Disney attempted to trademark the phrase “Dia de los Muertos.” Disney withdrew the attempt, but it’s far from the first time cultural appropriation claims have been made against the corporate giant.
For “Coco,” cultural consultants were brought on board, including Lalo Alcaraz – who originally strongly criticized Disney’s trademark attempt – and Octavio Solis.
But for Molina, who is Mexican-American, there was a motivation to present his culture similarly to how he feels about his own family and upbringing. He also spent time in Mexico.
“So much of it is just making sure that the audience is feeling what the characters are feeling … you want to understand why they’re all doing what they’re doing and the more you understand everyone’s point of view, the more drama you get,” Molina said. “It all comes from a place of thinking, if I were to stop this film at this moment would I be aching to know what happens next, would I be so invested in this character’s story that I, you know, couldn’t walk away. And that’s hard to do,” he added.
And when it comes to movies, Molina thinks that telling a good story to the audiences entails understanding and empathizing.
“We’ve got a very limited amount of screen time, and we need to be thoughtful about, what is it about this character, this family, that people are going to recognize themselves in,” Molina said. “And the sooner that we can get to that, the sooner that we can get to that common human experience and just the sense of love and connection that we all have for our families, then the sooner you invite the audience in to fall in love with these characters and root for these characters.”