– by Joseph Jammer Medina

If it’s not clear by this point, Coco has become quite the hit for Disney and Pixar. Not only is it performing pretty well financially, but it has received rave reviews across the internet, resulting in a 96 percent rating on the review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes.

But what is the reason behind its success? Sure, it has all the greatest aspects of Pixar storytelling, but one aspect that cannot be overlooked is the research that was done to get the rich culture behind it. From the aesthetic of Mexico, to the almighty chancla, there are many aspects that those familiar with Mexican culture can latch onto.

One other big aspect where Pixar’s research served them well was with the music. As a film that revolves around music, getting it right is important.

“More so than I think any other film we’ve made here at Pixar, music has been so much a crucial part of the storytelling and the story development process,” Coco co-director Adrian Molina said to LRM and a group of journalists during our visit to Pixar a few months back. “And as such, it’s a project where we really wanted to get talking about music really early on in the process. We’re all storytellers here and to be able to weave music into the story, just from the very beginning, has been really fun for us and I think is kind of creating really great chemistry among the artists and among the musicians.”

But of course, getting the music right isn’t the only important aspect. It’s important to retain the culture of the setting as well.

Molina continued, discussing the joys of being able to take advantage of the culture to propel the storytelling:

“It’s so nice to be able to use this music, this traditional and familiar, in new ways, in new types of storytelling. It’s one of those things you may not notice consciously, but subconsciously it really does a lot to support the feeling and the life of this world of music.

“We knew we had the opportunity in this story to create original songs, inspired very much by the different styles of music in Mexico…

“We really wanted the world that Miguel lives in to be inspiring to him, and to be full of music. As such, we wanted to lean into the broad tapestry of Mexican music, and the diversity there. This is music that is traditional, and that’s played in the context of the world.”

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So how did they work to retain that Mexican flavor? Their research trip played a big role in that, as implied above. While there, they brought la créme de la créme of Mexican musicians to play for them.

Songwriter and arranger Germaine Franco recalled those sessions:

“I would just say, ‘I want you to play your sound and the way you would do it, not anything else but that.’”

This led to a whole lot of content being recorded. Franco continued:

“We recorded over 70 minutes of music in about four days and we tried to have so many different styles so that the filmmakers could then pick and choose. So, we basically created a library of music.”

This served as a source of inspiration for both the storytelling and the finished music, be it for the original songs like “Un Poco Loco” or “Remember Me.” It also helped in the scoring of the film, as discussed by composer Michael Giacchino.

Not only did Giacchino feel the need to record all sorts of native instruments for the score, but he felt the need to actually change up his process to retain authenticity. How did he do it? Rather than compose using the piano, he switched over to the guitar.

“When you write something, you can play it on a piano, but for this film it felt like the only way to really see if this was going to work or not is let’s get it and play it on a guitar and see how that feels. So, everything I wrote was first road tested on a guitar.”

All of this leads to the culturally rich sounds we see in the finished product, and it was in all due to the talent on board, and the extra care taken to find out what makes music in the Mexican culture tick.

“We knew we had the opportunity in this story to create original songs, inspired very much by the different styles of music in Mexico,” Molina reflected. “As storytellers, as writers, as artists this became an opportunity to in the lyrics and in the situations where original songs are performed, we could really support the storytelling.”

What did you think of the music of Coco? Let us know down below!

Coco is in theaters now!

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Joseph Jammer Medina is an author, podcaster, and editor-in-chief of LRM. A graduate of Chapman University's Dodge College of Film and Television, Jammer's always had a craving for stories. From movies, television, and web content to books, anime, and manga, he's always been something of a story junkie.