The world of Pixar is expanding in a big, dead, musical way in November 2017.
Coco is Pixar’s next original movie, and it’s the sole novel film for the studio over the next few years as production ramps up for Cars 3 (due in June 2017) and, later, The Incredibles 2 and Toy Story 4.
Since Coco’s announcement in 2012, little has been known about the film other than its central themes — it takes place in Mexico on the annual holiday Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead — and its filmmakers: Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson, and co-director Adrian Molina). But here’s the Coco content you’ve been waiting for: EW took a recent trip to Pixar and can now reveal a few additional details about the music-packed-but-not-quite-“musical” film.
First, the voice cast: Benjamin Bratt and Gael García Bernal will lead Coco alongside newcomer Anthony Gonzalez, who will voice the film’s main character, a 12-year-old Mexican boy named Miguel. Gonzalez was hired after serving as Miguel’s scratch voice during early development, proving himself indispensable to both the filmmakers and the character. Character actress Renée Victor also joins the cast as Abuelita, Miguel’s grandmother.
However, to understand whom Bratt and Bernal are voicing, it helps to get a little context. What’s Coco even about?
Coco follows the secret musical ambitions of Miguel, who resides in a lively, loud Mexican village but comes from a family of shoemakers that may be the town’s only music-hating household. For generations, the Riveras have banned music because they believe they’ve been cursed by it; as their family history goes, Miguel’s great-great-grandfather abandoned his wife decades earlier to follow his own dreams of performing, leaving Imelda (Miguel’s great-great-grandmother) to take control as the matriarch of the now-thriving Rivera line and declare music dead to the family forever.
But Miguel harbors a secret desire to seize his musical moment, inspired by his favorite singer of all time, the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Bratt). It’s only after Miguel discovers an amazing link between himself and De la Cruz that he takes action to emulate the famous singer and, in doing so, accidentally enters the Land of the Dead.
In the beautiful underworld, it’s not long until Miguel encounters the souls of his own family — generations’ worth of long-dead but no less vivacious Rivera ancestors, including great-grandmother Imelda. Still, given the opportunity to roam around the Land of the Dead, Miguel decides to track down De la Cruz himself. He teams up with another friendly (and skeletal) spirit — a trickster named Hector, voiced by Bernal — to find De la Cruz, earn his family’s blessing to perform, and return to the Land of the Living before time runs out.
“It was important to us from day one that we had an all-Latino cast,” says Unkrich, who with producer Anderson shepherded Toy Story 3 to become the world’s second highest-grossing animated film. “It focused us, and we ended up with a fantastic mix of people — some from Mexico and some from Los Angeles.”
Bratt was cast relatively early on — Unkrich says he was the first, in fact — but Bernal took some more internal legwork. “Gael was someone we were considering early on, but I didn’t know if I’d be able to sell him [to Pixar chief John Lasseter] because he’s done so many films I’ve loved through the years, but he hadn’t really done comedy,” Unkrich tells EW. “Thankfully, our casting director said, ‘Have you seen this new show that Gael’s in?’ And it was Mozart in the Jungle, and I started watching and thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s so funny, he’s so charming, and he’s perfect.’ So, thank God for Mozart. It didn’t take any convincing on John’s part.”
Meanwhile, Gonzalez is a newcomer triple-threat who does all his own singing in the movie and came to the filmmakers’ attention during a nationwide search for Miguel — and not just as the character’s final voice, but his scratch (or temporary) one. “We actually had another kid doing scratch for Miguel who’s now 17 or 18, which should tell you how long we’ve been working on the movie, but his voice changed long ago, and it was actually in trying to find a new voice for the scratch that we found Anthony,” says Unkrich.