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Annecy: Pixar Previews ‘Coco’

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Producer Darla K. Anderson screened a trailer, the opening sequence and other scenes from ‘Toy Story 3’ director Lee Unkrich’s new feature, inspired by Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday.

Before a packed house at Annecy’s Bonlieu theater, Pixar producer Darla K. Anderson and writer Adrian Molina were on hand Friday to screen first footage of director Lee Unkrich’s upcoming Mexican epic Coco, which opens worldwide in the fall.

The film features the voices of Benjamin Bratt, Gael Garcia Bernal, Edward James Olmos and newcomer Anthony Gonzalez as Miguel, a 12-year-old boy whose love of music will set him on a journey into a hidden netherworld populated by the dead.

According to Anderson, the movie was largely inspired by the colorful Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) holiday that takes place in Mexico during the first two days of November, and during which families honor their departed ancestors with altars, prayers and gatherings.

In Coco – which was written by Unkrich (Toy Story 3) and Molina (Monsters University) – Miguel, who goes against his family’s wishes by teaching himself to play guitar, winds up accessing a magical land of “living” skeletons, crossing paths with his own departed kin in the process.

“The story is rooted in the importance of remembering those who came before us,” said Anderson, who then screened the film’s trailer, opening sequence and a few other scenes that were still works-in-progress.

Renderings of the magical underworld were especially impressive, making the Dia de Muertos myths and decorations come to life, with Bernal voicing a comic-relief skeleton named Hector and Bratt playing a famous cantador named Ernesto de la Cruz.

Steeped in the traditions and sounds of Mexico, with a Latin American cast singing and performing in English, Coco represents an interesting gamble for Pixar and its parent company, Walt Disney. It’s both a very Hollywood coming-of-age adventure story and a celebration of the morbidly joyous rituals of the Day of the Dead. And it’s definitely the first animated film of this size to be so steeped in culture south of the border that it is building a bridge – which is actually used in the film to connect its two worlds – rather than a wall.

“What if we could meet our dead relatives?” was, according to Anderson and Molina, the question that originally set Unkrich on the path to Coco. Audiences will answer when the film hits U.S. theaters on Nov. 22, with a release set for Mexico just before the Dia de Muertos kicks off.

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