Dan Guerrero — Helping Pixar Get Coco’s Culture Just Right

Coco Disney Pixar

Coco, The Day of the Dead movie, the Latino nuances, the back story.

Someone at Pixar had the bright idea of doing a movie set in Mexico about The Day of the Dead.

Now, the whole concept of death as the premise of a family-focused animated film might sound a bit mad, with Mexico as a politically sensitive topic, but co-directors Adrian Molina and Lee Unkrich, along with a few other writers came up with a story that worked.

Molina and Matthew Aldrich wrote a screenplay, and the brain trust at Pixar gave it the proverbial green light.

Clearly they were taking a huge risk.  The story was solid, the script was solid, the premise worked, but they knew that to pull this off they had to get a lot of cultural elements just right or it could blow up in their faces.

The smart people at Pixar started with a small group of cultural advisors including Lalo Alcaraz, the comic strip artist and community advocate.

Latino cultural and musical specialists as sounding boards

They got this rolling but they added additional Latino cultural and musical specialists as sounding boards for the film.

This effort was organized by one of the producers, Darla K. Anderson, and included the head of Pixar’s Global PR department, Michael Agulnek, and was fully embraced by the directors, TV the producers and the entire organization.

There were about twelve people organized by consultant Marcela Davison Aviles who were brought in from time to time to contribute, one of whom was Dan Guerrero.

Dan’s father was Lalo Guerrero, the famous Chicano musician and composer who was hugely popular for his many compositions including his popular holiday song “Pancho Claus,” but he was perhaps best known for the music in the stage production and film of Luis Valdez’s Zoot Suit.  Lalo was honored by the Smithsonian and was presented the National Medal of Arts from the Clinton White House in 1996.

So his son Dan’s contribution to the team working on Coco included his deep knowledge of Mexican music — which is central to the film – it’s all about the music.

Dan grew up in the entertainment industry

Dan grew up in the entertainment industry and over the years has worn many hats, including acting on the New York stage and as a TV writer, director and producer. He also tours with his one-man show “Gaytino” and he is a frequent lecturer on college campuses and a staunch advocate for the Latino and LGBTQ community.

Dan Guerrero -- Helping Pixar Get Coco’s Culture Just Right

Dan Guerrero — Helping Pixar Get Coco’s Culture Just Right also Germaine Franco songwriter for the movie.

He sits on the boards of many organizations, including The Neighborhood Music School in Boyle Heights.  I met him when we were both on the board of the Vikki Carr Scholarship Foundation.

He seems to know everyone in Hollywood, and they all love him back because he is focused and determined, effective and efficient, funny and loving, but also unapologetically proud of being Chicano/Mexican-American/Latino.

Dan says the entire Pixar effort was first class, everyone on the advisory board was listened to, their ideas were often incorporated into the film, and no one on the advisory board ever got a whiff of condescension.  They weren’t doing this just for the PR, they were doing this to get the movie just right.  And they did.

This started with a chance to see the entire film laid out using storyboard drawings and rough voice-overs with office staff (not the almost all-Latino cast who voiced the final version).   So this was before the story was finally set in stone and the hard work of the process of making a digital animated film began.


Coco Pixar Trailer

The advisory board members were able to contribute special touches, like the apparent need to explain “la ofrenda” which is the altar where family members put up the pictures of their deceased family members and plates of food and bottles of drinks are left as an offering.

For an audience unfamiliar with the concept, the advisors thought it would be important to explain the ofrenda which would help them become completely swept up into the film the way they ultimately were because the script was modified to make this crucial plot point entirely clear.

Next page- My favorite moment in the film


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