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Warning: Coco spoilers ahead! Read on at your own risk!
Pixar's Coco opens with a narration by Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) as he frontloads the story with an explanation of his family's hatred of music and his burning passion for becoming a singer, but it turns out that the film almost started a couple of other ways. I recently sat down with the team behind Coco to ask them about these alternate openings and to get a sense of why they changed. In response to my question, Lee Unkrich explained that the different intros wasted valuable time getting to Miguel and his arc. Unkrich specifically said:
We started it a few different ways over time. At one point I think initially we had a big musical number at the beginning that was taking place on stage in a theater, but it was a show about Dia de Los Muertos, and we did that as our initial way to kind of educate the audience, the people who don't know about Dia de Muertos and what the tradition is all about, to try to teach them about it in a fun way.
Then we had another way of opening the film later on where we started in an old de la Cruz film, and we had a whole opening where we were in a de la Cruz movie and meeting him as a character first and then meeting Miguel and seeing his adoration for this old movie star. Ultimately, in both of those cases, it was taking a long time until we met Miguel and got our story started and so we ended up trying this way of opening the film where we frontloaded his backstory or his voice right from the very beginning. It saved us from having to tell all of that backstory later, which is always clunky trying to do it in the body of the storytelling.
So, one way to open Coco involved getting audiences up-to-speed on the nature of Dia de Los Muertos, which in turn paved the way for Miguel's journey to the Land of the Dead at the first act break. The other opening for the film involved audiences getting to know Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) and establishing Miguel's love for the iconic Mexican singer. However, directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina wanted to make sure that Coco always felt like Miguel's story -- elsewhere in our conversation they talked about the difficulty of casting him for that reason. In the end, they opted for a narration that laid out all of the story elements within the first few minutes and freed up room later in the film to focus on the story at hand.
Despite the numerous changes and the bumpy road to the silver screen, it seems that all of the alterations the Coco team made to the film have paid off. The pseudo-musical is already off to a solid start at the box office (it could beat DC's Justice League this weekend), and its critical reception has been great thus far. It's early in Coco's run, but we may be looking at yet another winning entry in the canon of Pixar projects.