One of the most important story elements that a fantasy film in this day and age needs to have are clearly defined rules. Without these rules, it can be easy to attain the unimaginable and confuse and isolate an audience. Throw in a story that tackles the concept of an afterlife that no one has really heavily discussed and it can create a huge hassle for creators.
When approaching Disney/Pixar’s Coco, co-directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina had their work cut out for them in defining what they wanted to get across when constructing their version of the Land of the Dead. Lee Unkrich explained their thought process behind what they had to work with moving forward in developing their version of the afterlife:
“We knew that we wanted it to be a celebratory place. We knew that the people that were there would be excited to go back to visit their loved ones so there would generally be this buoyant and festive atmosphere to everything that we did there. So that’s really what drove us to create that vision.”
One problem that was going to be presented by focusing on the afterlife being a festive and exciting place for the dead was grounding it in a reality that wasn’t too focused on boundless amounts of humor. Humor can make or break a children’s film for both parents and kids. If the humor lends itself to be more raunchy, it’ll go over the kids’ heads. However, if the humor goes the opposite way and lands in the realm of the corny and hokey, it could turn the parents off. So how does one balance that humor so as not to isolate both parents and kids?
All it can take sometimes is focusing on a conflict. As has been explained in trailers, all Miguel wants to do is focus on music. He doesn’t want to follow in his family’s footsteps. Parents can relate to this as well as kids. This conflict helped to influence how the co-directors developed the rules of the Land of the Dead while steering away from the wrong types of humor:
“I knew from the get-go that I didn’t want it to be full of gags. I knew I didn’t want a Starbones on the corner. I didn’t want to have that level of humor in the film. We did make some rules. We said that whatever people’s jobs were in life they continued on in the land of the dead. That might be great for some people. That might suck for some people to have to keep doing what they do. We just wanted to have some ground rules so that there would be a structure the society and especially since we wanted the Riveras to make shoes, even in the afterlife, so that Miguel would have nothing to look forward to.”
Grounding the fantasy film in reality while focusing the humor on what everyone, including Miguel, has to look forward to in the afterlife not only makes Miguel’s conflict more relatable, but also helps to make light of the situation. By establishing a clear set of rules and focusing on wanting to make the afterlife a joy to be in, the co-directors arguably have made it easier for audiences to connect to this version of the afterlife.
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