Raised in a Mexican-American family in Grass Valley, California, Adrian Molina quickly learned about the culture, values and traditions of his mother’s home country.
Molina felt so honored and touched by those stories that he wrote Coco, the latest Disney•Pixar film slated for release November 22.
“This is my way of saying thank you,” Molina says. “We had a screening and people were unable to speak for a little bit. They’re touched because it reminded them of someone in their family.
“The movie sparks a memory for them of something meaningful for them. Sometimes they feel like their experiences are represented on screen. I’m Mexican-American and it’s a very powerful thing to see the way you experienced your family and upbringing on screen for the whole world to see.”
Coco introduces Miguel, an aspiring singer and self-taught guitarist who dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz, Mexico’s most famous musician. Many years ago, Miguel’s great-great grandmother and great-great-grandfather split because he preferred to pursue music, instead of care for his family. As a result, his grandmother banned music. The story takes place during Día de Muertos.
“We started on it about six years ago,” Molina says. “We went down to Mexico for Día de Muertos for four of those years with different groups. Sometimes it was the directors and writers, or the story artist, or the sound designers. We wanted to really experience the celebration—the holiday, the sounds, the smells.”
Molina began his career at Pixar Animation Studios as a story intern in the summer of 2006. Since joining the studio full-time that fall, Molina has worked on the Academy Award-winning feature films Ratatouille and Toy Story 3, and was a story artist for Disney•Pixar’s Monsters University.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” he says. “I joined Ratatouille right at the tail end of it. Toy Story 3 was the first project where I had a big part in the storytelling.
“It’s been 11 years. They’re all so beautiful, but to be able to contribute as much as I have on this one has been a highlight of my career.”
He credits his parents for encouraging him to embrace his artistic and creative instincts, and his high school literature program for teaching him how to be critical and aware of storytelling and structure.
He attributes his success to “hard work and passion.”
“Plus, there’s a culture of collaboration within the studio,” he says. “It wouldn’t be possible if the door wasn’t always open for interesting ideas, for new voices and the support of the first directors on Toy Story 3. The staff encourages him to “rip things apart an dput them back together in the spirit of play.”
“They challenged me and wanted me to spread my wings,” he says. “That’s why these films feel different. They’re made in an organic way. You can’t put a recipe to it.”
Coco comes from a specific place, one with which most can relate.
“We all have families,” Molina says. “We all have those relationships that meant something important to them. This is the way to say thank you to my family for all the sacrifices they made. To put that on the screen was an important moment for me. That was me saying thank you.”