Pixar's Día de los Muertos movie a nod to Mexican audiences
Pixar's "Toy Story 3" is the highest-grossing movie of all time in Mexico, where the animated adventure tale of children's toys Woody and Buzz Lightyear collected $59 million at the box office in 2010, more than megahits like "Avatar" and the "Harry Potter" finale.
The follow-up from "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich and producer Darla K. Anderson is also likely to have strong appeal with Mexican audiences -- and to boast more authentically Latino characters than a Spanish-speaking Buzz Lightyear doll.
The duo's next movie is a still-untitled project about Día de los Muertos, the Mexican holiday of the dead, which Disney and Pixar first announced at CinemaCon last month.
Pixar hasn't said how the idea of a Día de los Muertos movie came about, nor have they released any details about its plot or characters.
"Pixar movies do extremely well in Mexico," Unkrich said in mid-May, as he was waiting to offer notes to the filmmakers of the studio's next movie, "Brave," at a screening at the Skywalker Ranch in Marin County. "This will allow us to explore a really fascinating aspect of the culture there."
Unkrich said he had begun taking trips to Mexico to research the Nov. 1 holiday, best known by many in the U.S. for its proximity to Halloween and use of skull and marigold iconography.
On the Day of the Dead, which has its roots in indigenous Aztec culture, families in Mexico and many Latin American countries pay tribute to deceased loved ones by creating graveside altars with treats like candy and bottles of Coca-Cola, and donning elaborate skull masks and costumes for processionals.
"This is a very different view of death than the American one," said Unkrich. "It's not spooky. It's celebratory."
Unkrich's project wouldn't be the first time Pixar has delved into the subject of mortality -- the killing of Nemo's mom sets the story of "Finding Nemo" into motion, and "Up" is essentially a cartoon about grieving. But the Día de los Muertos movie is likely to tackle death head-on in a way that's unusual for a big-budget animated film.
At the "Brave" screening, Unkrich said he was a week away from making his story pitch to Pixar's "brain trust" -- the group that includes the animation studio's chief creative officer, John Lasseter, and fellow directors such as Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton.
Having also co-directed "Toy Story 2," "Monsters, Inc." and "Finding Nemo," Unkrich has developed a strategy for surviving the sometimes ruthlessly honest brain trust sessions, which Pixar filmmakers undertake several times in the life of a movie.
"The trick is, you have to be willing to contribute your own bad idea, so we can all get to the good ones," he said.
There's plenty of time for bad ideas and good ones: Disney and Pixar have not yet set a release date for the Día de los Muertos movie, and their slate is set through 2015.
— Rebecca Keegan
Photo: Lee Unkrich. Credit: Deborah Coleman/Pixar.