Remembering Those Who Brought Coco's Soundtrack To Life
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Remembering Those Who Brought Coco's Soundtrack To Life

Although the Oscar-nominated song “Remember Me” will be celebrated at the upcoming Academy Awards, it is important to recognize the talents of those who brought the rest of the films beautiful soundtrack to life.

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Remembering Those Who Brought Coco's Soundtrack To Life
Screenshot Via YouTube

With the Academy Awards right around the corner, we continue to celebrate the talents that brought together some of the best cinematic experiences in the 2017 season. Among those nominees are the composers and performers who brought stories to life through the music they created. Nominated this year for Best Original Song are Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for their song “Remember Me” from Disney/Pixar’s Coco. The duo, who won the accolade previously for “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen, brought the song to life by modeling the film’s central musical motif after Mexican songs of the 30s and 40s. The song evolves throughout the film as the tune is reinvented from a “bolero-ranchero style” to a “quiet ballad” sung by the talents of Benjamin Bratt, Gael García Bernal, and Anthony Gonzalez as well as Marco Antonio Solís and Luis Ángel Gómez Jaramillo who voice Ernesto de la Cruz and Miguel in the Spanish translation of the film.

However, the beauty of Mexico that is represented in the film’s soundtrack and the score is not solely the work of this Oscar-winning duo. In fact, the two are only credited for the nominated song. Although the remainder of the film’s music will not be recognized on March 4th at the Oscars, it is important to know who we owe thanks to for creating a musical world that celebrates the culture and musical stylings of Mexico.

Germaine Franco is a Mexican-American film composer who worked on Coco as a music producer, composer, arranger, and orchestrator. Her family comes from Chihuahua and Durango and she was raised on the border of El Paso, Texas. Although the film is scored by Michael Giacchino (composer of Pixar’s The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Up, for which he won an Oscar), Franco was brought onto the project two years prior to Giacchino by filmmakers to help build “an authentically Mexican musical landscape for the movie.” Her involvement in the project included copious amounts of research which she accumulated in the absence of Giacchino who was on temporary leave at the time to score Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. She visited numerous cities in Mexico, focusing on the native professional musicians “who were raised listening to the traditional Mexican music they now play, and who learned entirely through sound instead of the classical instruction.” Franco went looking for what she calls the “sonic texture” which pertains to the musical details that can be heard or seen in the background which, combined with Pixar’s innate talent for detail, creates specificity to the world of the film. In her observations of musicians throughout Mexico, Franco and the Pixar team took videos from all angles of the músicos in order to perfectly replicate the fingering patterns and capture other sufficient details. The animation team was then able to use the footage to create realistic musicians, adding to the “texture” of each scene.

While she did not write the Oscar-nominated “Remember Me,” Franco’s first contribution to the film was arranging and orchestrating the song. From there she began penning the other musical moments in the film including “Everyone Knows Juanita,” “Un Poco Loco,” “The World Es Mi Familia,” and “Proud Corazón” with co-director and screenplay writer Adrian Molina. Her involvement with Giacchino emerged as she began to source his music, arranging and editing his work as needed. One of the main goals for Franco when creating the film’s soundtrack was capturing the various genres in Mexican music. She wanted to look “beyond mariachi and the bombastic crooning of De la Cruz” and incorporate elements of jarocho style, banda, and trío romántico music.

Beyond her work on Coco, Franco is a trailblazer for women in the film scoring industry. She became the first Latina woman to be invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences music branch as well as the first woman composer to be hired by DreamWorks Animation. She currently stands as a Board Member of the Alliance for Women Film Composers and is a Women In Film Music Fellow.

Camilo Lara was brought onto the project as the music consultant. Lara is a Mexico City-based DJ and producer who created the Mexican Institute of Sound focused on growing the Mexican electronic movement. His work on the film involved gathering Mexico’s top musicians to scoring sessions during his research trip through Mexico with Franco. The contacts he provided allowed songwriters access to a “library of music in different moods, from different regions.” Some of these impressive artists included Banda Tierra Mojada (a 15 pieced group specializing in Oaxacan/Sinaloense fusion banda), Mono Blanco (20 musicians accumulated from families whose ancestors have played together since 1977), and Marimba Nandayapa Ensemble (a championed marimba group who has played and performed all around the world for 61 years). He also lent a hand with creating the musical landscape for the film and focused on infusing folk music with electronic sound. Lara makes a cameo in the film as the DJ at Ernesto del Cruz’s hacienda. The film also incorporates the instrumental track “Jálale” performed by the Mexican Institute of Sound.

Adrian Molina is no stranger to Pixar. Having been with the company since 2007, Molina has served as a 2D animator, a storyboard artist, and a writer for movies such as Ratatouille, Toy Story 3, Monsters University, and The Good Dinosaur. His first opportunity as a screenplay writer presented itself with Coco and with time the California native of Mexican descent became the co-director of the project. Molina aided himself with a number of cultural consultants who were given access to footage and incomplete story ideas early on in the process, uncommon in Pixar films. Molina also served as a lyricist, working with Germaine Franco to create the track listing for the film’s soundtrack. In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Molina shares his sentiments on being a part of the team, saying "It's about music, it's about family, it's about Mexican culture – if there was ever a film I was going to go all in on, if 'Coco's' not it, I don't know what is."

When all was said and done, the score was performed by an 84-piece orchestra which included many Aztec percussion instruments and a plethora of guitars. Latin American musicians were also on site at the studio to add their own flare to the music and help paint with as many musical colors as possible. Michael Giacchino, the composer of the film, shared “I wanted you to watch the movie and feel like you were there. We wanted it to come from a place of home — Mexico.”

Coco has been a game changer in not only animation but in the way that cultures and people of certain heritages are represented in the entertainment industry. In a time where Mexican people have been painted negatively by stereotypes or disregarded by governing officials, Coco brings to its audiences a celebration of culture and how much beauty there can be in life and the world beyond that of the living. What Germaine Franco, Camilo Lara, Adrian Molina, Michael Giacchino, Kristin Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, and everyone else at Pixar have given us is a chance to not only see ourselves on the screen but to hear the voices of our people. The voices of our abuelos and the ancestors that came before them. The collective voice of a culture that is as diverse and intricate and passionate as the music we hear when we see Coco.

Miguel said it best when he sings:

“For this music is my language and the world es mi familia.”

So while Coco will be recognized at the Oscars this season for its beautiful song and incredible animation, the film will forever be a winner for me because it gave us a voice that continues to sing in the hearts of people all around the world. And for that I am forever grateful.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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