‘Coco’ co-director, co-writer tells story of his role

November 15, 2017 / by / 0 Comment

“Coco,” a story about a boy, his hairless dog, a guitar and Dia de los Muertos, opens Nov. 22 in the U.S.

By Laurie Merrill
GCU News Bureau

Miguel Rivera, the 12-year-old hero in the soon-to-be-released, 3D computer-animated adventure film “Coco,” wasn’t even born when his great-great grandmother banned music from their clan.  

“I am not like the rest of my family,” Miguel says near the beginning of the Pixar Animation Studios film, which Walt Disney Pictures has scheduled for a Nov. 22 release in the U.S. “I know I’m not supposed to love music. But I do.”

Adrian Molina told GCU students Tuesday that he is passionate about making storyboards for animated films such as “Coco.” (Laurie Merrill)

The music-and-color infused tale carries Miguel into the whimsical world of the dead, shows him the true meaning of Dia de los Muertos (the Mexican “Day of the Dead”) and pulls him closer to the warmth and love of his family.

Along the way, Miguel and his trusty sidekick, a hairless, long-tongued Xoloitzcuintle pup named “Dante,” meet a wacky and wonderful cast of characters both above and below ground.

For Pixar storyboard artist and screenwriter Adrian Molina, who spoke Tuesday to a standing-room-only crowd in Grand Canyon University’s Ethington Theatre, co-writing and co-directing Coco “was the dream of a lifetime.”

Not only did making the film, which took six years from start to finish, lead Molina and other creators into previously unchartered story-telling territory, it also took them, literally, into the heart of Mexico, where they spent months researching and observing Dia de los Muertos ceremonies.

“From the story, to the music, to the design, to the lighting, every part of our film is influenced by these events,” Molina said.

Throughout the talk at Ethington, Molina showed sneak peaks of the film and explained how various elements were composed.

Though a musical, Coco does not feature characters who inexplicably burst into foot-stomping songs. One theme of the story centers on musicians and the almost tangible force that compels them to make music. The score delights with beautiful guitar playing.

Miguel Rivera (right), the main character of “Coco,” dances with Hector, a colleague he meets “on the other side.”

One crowd pleaser, “Remember Me,” harkens back to the significance of Dia de los Muertos, the day that the living celebrate the dead by remembering them in stories. Altars (ofrendas) are made and adorned with photos and covered with plates of a loved one’s favorite foods.

“From the days of the Aztecs, Dia de Muertos (an alternative name) has been about honoring your ancestors — about a drive to remember them. It’s a way of saying ‘thank you,’”  Molina said.

Molina started at Pixar as a summer intern in 2006, which led to the offer of a full-time job that fall. GCU students asked what he did to stand out.

“Toy Story 3” was in the works, he said, and he was asked to find a way to get Woody (the main character) out of a daycare center. It had to be funny and non-repeatable.

Molina presented a scene in which Woody scrambles through a bathroom window to the roof of the daycare facility and flies to freedom on a kite.

“That was where I found success,” Molina said.

Many voice actors in Molina are of Mexican descent, he said, including the star, Anthony Gonzalez, who plays Miguel. The filmmakers auditioned more than 600 candidates for the role of Miguel, searching for just the right one. The actor had to be bilingual and able to sing but have a voice that was not expected to change much over the years.

Gonzalez is the perfect Miguel, Molina said.

“He carries the entire film.”

Adrian Molina, co-producer and co-writer of  “Coco,” was named a Top 10 Animator to Watch in 2016.

The digital film and digital design students who flocked to the event said they appreciated the session.   

“I’m very happy that GCU cares to inspire the students here,” said Ynna Mendoza, a digital design student. “I like that he showed us clips and went into detail about each. I especially liked that he told us how he got his job.”

“It was really cool to have someone speak who was laid-back and humble,” digital film student Connor Greenawalt said. “I liked the film (clips) a lot. I loved the bright yellows and oranges and the black and white of the skeletons.”

Dasha “Daria” Buchanan described Molina as “amazing. I really like what he said about family – and how family matters.”

Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or

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