Coco Interview: Director Adrian Molina

Screen Rant was brought down to Oaxaca, Mexico for the home release of Disney and Pixar’s 19th film, Coco. While there, we spoke with Adrian Molina, who both co-wrote and co-directed the film. He spoke to us about his personal experience with Dia de Los Muertos, inspirations for the look of the Land of the Dead, and the importance of staying true to the look and feel of different Mexican cultures.

Screen Rant: Hey guys I'm here with Adrian Molina the co-director of Coco. Coco does a great job beautifully displaying the Mexican culture, but it's also about family, now we know that ‘Day of the Dead’ is a huge Mexican celebration, so what celebration did your family do for ‘Day of the Dead’ that differed from the movie?

Adrian Molina: Well, that's an interesting thing, my mom is from Jalisco, in a small town called San Sebastian, and I talked to her about it, when we started working on this film. ‘Hey mom did you guys ever celebrate Dia de Los Muertos?’ She's like ‘where I grew up, no not so much’

Screen Rant: Wow.

Adrian Molina: Yeah, so one thing, one thing that people don't know is that while it is a very beloved celebration in Mexico, it's not necessarily celebrated in every community. So, what we wanted to do when we came here - so I was familiar with it growing up. . .You know taking Spanish classes, living in Oakland, I had a certain understanding of it, but when we came here we really wanted to understand ‘what are the details of the celebration of the people who observe it in their homes’ and that was something I had never gotten to witness; and so it was really wonderful, because people were very generous with their information, they opened up their homes, they invited us to their friends, and they wanted to share stories of their families; and that really is what it's all about, it’s about keeping the memories alive, transmitting the things that you loved to, you know, to family, to friends, to generations that come after you, and that was fundamental to helping us develop what is the theme of this story.

Screen Rant: Right.

Adrian Molina: What is the importance of remembrance just in life in general and how does this holiday remind us of that on an annual basis and you see that in, you know, the entire bedrock of the themes of this film.

Screen Rant: Now, you and I spoke a little bit earlier and you said that Miguel’s family mostly celebrated Day of the Dead from the Oaxacan traditions, is that correct? Why was that choice made?

Adrian Molina: Well, we wanted to because. . . we wanted to learn about how all different people celebrated the Day of the Dead, we visited, you know, Mexico City, we visited Oaxaca, many different places, and we realize that while some things are common across all of the celebrations there are regional specificities and we thought well if we're going to place this family in a real place we don't want to make a mishmash of a bunch of specificities, we want to kind of ground this family in a particular region, and for us, Oaxaca was kind of the place where we wanted to reflect in the way that they build their ofrendas and the way that they decorate the cemetery, although even town to town you see differences so . . . We wanted to place that in a real place and then when we go into the land of the dead, all of a sudden that opens us up to the breadth of traditions and just styles and areas and music, so we kind of got to have the best of both worlds – it’s specific for the living world but open to all the variation in the Land of the Dead.

Screen Rant: That’s amazing. Now one of the things out here in Oaxaca that's beautiful is the alebrijes, am I saying that right?

Adrian Molina: *corrects pronunciation*

Screen Rant: They are beautiful and we got to see them be made a little bit, what is your animals?

Adrian Molina: So, I just found out yesterday, we talked at Jacobo Studios, they have a book where it breaks down your guardian spirit, so mine is La Tortuga, the turtle. . .

Screen Rant: OK.

Adrian Molina: So I bought myself a little turtle alebrije. But yeah, going to see the alebrijes, to talk to Jacobo and see the studio, that was very inspirational and figuring out - one these are beautiful pieces of art that would be amazing to see an animation, moving, living, breathing, but also this sense of, you know, talking about the human connection to animals and the guardian spirits. Allowing that to inform how we could use them in the land of the dead, because that's not something that's associated with the holiday, it's more of an invention specific to the characters in this film. . .But they’re such a beautiful art form that we wanted to find out a way to bring them to life.

Screen Rant: So I'm a deer and a frog so I wanted to see that mashed up. . .Now another thing here from the film is obviously we’re at these beautiful ruins, what was the inspiration for that and the Land of the Dead?

Adrian Molina: Yeah, so again, as we were doing our research we’d often ask where the spirit is coming from and the resounding answer was like, you know . . . *shrugs shoulders* . . . So we had to create a logic to the structure of the Land of the Dead, we were very inspired by Mexico City which was, you know, these pyramids built out of the water and then we wanted to, you know, build towers that reflected, you know, multiple ages of architecture and history and so a place like Monte Alban was very inspirational in the lowest levels, the closest to the root of, you know, civilization. . .

Screen Rant: Sure.

Adrian Molina: Since - and so you'll see that reflected as Miguel and Hector descend into the lowest levels of the world, this is the stone work you start seeing, this is the structure of the staircases and yeah, that all was inspired by visiting places like Monte Alban, like Chichen Itza, and like Tenochtitlan.

Screen Rant: Now, I love the behind the scenes features in this film, mainly because they're all like many documentaries and you saw that your team, your research team had a lot of sketchpads as they would walk through the town.

Adrian Molina: Yes.

Screen Rant: Did any of that make it into the film specifically?

Adrian Molina: So yeah, I came on the trip as a story artist and the story artists, we always really bring my sketchbooks with us, so that we can, you know, any environments we see, people we see, outfits we see, ideas that we come up with, we can capture and so yeah, I don't know that it would have specifically been a one to one, but you take all the sketches back and you pin them up and you fill a room with all of your photo reference, with all of your drawings; and you start to discuss like, what’s Miguel’s family going to look like? What is the Land of the Dead going to look like? And you've got all of these reference points to help inspire you.

Screen Rant: This movie is beautiful and I'm so happy to own it on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital. So thank you so much for your time.

Adrian Molina: Thank you

Screen Rant: Pleasure.

Adrian Molina: Thank you.

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