Pixar's Lee Unkrich On The Dia De Los Muertos Film And Facing The Reality Of Death

By Kelly West 2012-09-14 09:47:51discussion comments
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Death is not a subject that Disney or Pixar have ever really shied away from. Finding Nemo, which makes its 3D debut in theaters this weekend, begins with a death that helps set up the story for an overprotective clownfish and his only son Nemo. Among the projects in the works at Pixar is the Untitled Pixar Movie About Dia de los Muertos, which may be taking an even more direct approach to the subject of death. Little is known about the project, other than that it will somehow involve the Mexican holiday, which means "Day of the Dead."

When I had the opportunity to visit Pixar Studios last month to talk to director Lee Unkrich about the Finding Nemo 3D release, I asked him about the Dia del los Muertos project. Unsurprisingly, he wasn't willing to give up much about the film, which he's directing. But he did say a few interesting things about it, including his thoughts on the reality of death.
I can't really talk about it, other than that it exists and that I'm directing it. I'm making a film that's kind of set in the world of Dia de los Muertos. All I can say - based on the films that we've made - is that death is a part of life. Yes, it's easy to kind of look away from it and pretend it doesn't exist. But it is kind of the same reality that we all have to face. And it's a powerful thing. I'm proud that we haven't kind of hidden away from it.

Put that way, I'm even more excited about this project. That might sound morbid, but what he's saying makes sense, and though this concept could be risky, depending on how deeply they approach the subject of death, and particularly if they're planning to incorporate humor into the story, it could also prove to be another step forward for Pixar's evolution. When Unkrich spoke to us about Finding Nemo, he mentioned Finding Nemo's success giving them the confidence to be more emotional and "attack deeper things." And you can see evidence of that in some of the films that followed Nemo. Whether or not this new project sees that kind of success remains to be seen, but if it does, perhaps it will have a similar effect on how Pixar approaches darker subjects.

Talking to Unkrich, I was also curious about how culture might be explored in this film. Again, he didn't offer any details there, but from what he says, it sounds like the story they're going for is - like other Pixar movies - is more character driven than culture driven. "It's never kind of a choice to say 'Well, this would be an interesting culture to explore,'" Unkrich told us. "It honestly comes down to character first. That's usually where all this comes from, is that we have an idea for a certain character and sometimes it ends up feeling naturally like it should be set in a certain world."

Later, during the interview, he mentioned doing "some interesting research trips" for the film he's working on now, and that it's let him do "some fun stuff." While that's not a lot to go on, it's still exciting to hear updates on this project. We have a long way to wait for this one though. The last update on the release has it set for sometime in 2015.

More about our trip to Pixar Studios, including photos and comments from Lee Unkrich on Nemo's 3D release here.
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