Right after Toy Story 3 was released, director Lee Unkrich approached Disney about making a movie centered around Dia de los Muertos. They greenlit the project, although there was no story, no characters, and no plan. The years since then have seen the movie that became Coco develop and change, and change again.
The movie’s original story was vastly different than what happens in the final film. “[Originally,] we told a story about an American boy who had a Mexican mother and an American father. And his Mexican mother had passed away,” Unkrich explained. “It was a story about his father taking him down to Mexico to meet the Mexican side of his family, and he ended up being exposed to Dia de los Muertos and going on this fantastical adventure.”
This remained the story until the director suddenly realized something was very, very wrong. “It was ultimately a story about a kid dealing with his grief and learning to say goodbye to the memory of his mother,” Unkrich said. “And I realized we were telling a story that was thematically completely antithetical to what Dia de los Muertos is about. Die de los Muertos is about never letting go.”
Additionally, the original idea also presented the Mexican holiday through an American perspective, so it was scrapped. “We all held hands and said, ‘You know, we’re making a mistake here, this isn’t quite right,’ and we started fresh again,” Unkrich said.
After years of development, the movie evolved to focus on Miguel, a young Mexican boy who runs off to the Land of the Dead to solve the mystery of why his family hates music. And while the story was working and things were progressing, there were still challenges.
Read about more changes to the movie Coco over its six-year development at io9. Coco opens November 22 nationwide.