Source, Score, Originals. The music of Coco is broken down into those three distinct categories, each reflecting a certain feel to the film.
Back in August, I was lucky enough to attend the Coco press event which included a special musical presentation with composer Michael Giacchino, music producer/writer/orchestrator Germaine Franco, music consultant Camilo Lara, musician Federico Ramos, and co-director/writer Adrian Molina.
News surrounding the music of Coco was kept under wraps until after its theatrical release mostly due to how impactful it is in the film (especially the title track, “Remember Me”), similar to keeping the character Bing Bong a secret in Inside Out.
Centering around family, Coco is all about connecting with loved ones – both in the living world and in the Land of the Dead.
With music playing such a pivotal role in the film, director Lee Unkrich shared the importance of getting the feel of the film just right, “We wanted both authentic Mexican music and original songs…we encouraged the team to be true to traditional Mexican music, but gave them the freedom to make embrace new sounds.”
The hour-long session was held in a theater on Pixar’s campus and as the doors opened I hurried in to grab a front-row seat as I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear from Germaine Franco, who happens to be the first Latina composer invited to join the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Her role on Coco encompassed over four years working with the filmmakers as she wrote several songs with co-director Adrian Molina, arranged, orchestrated, and co-produced the signature song “Remember Me,” and so much more — as discussed in more detail below.
In addition to Franco, my excitement to hear insights from composer Michael Giacchino had me musically gobsmacked as we have been fans of his work since 2004 when we first got a chance to dive into his musical cues in the show LOST (and later that year in The Incredibles).
Having watched Giacchino evolve and take on such a variety of films throughout the years, Coco was definitely the film we were most interested to hear his interpretation of how he viewed the film through his ears.
“I came onto this project fairly early on, because we talked about doing source music and different things for the film, but as far as the score goes, I mean, generally when I come into a film I like to watch the film. I don’t want to read a script necessarily because it puts different images into my head than what the director will eventually have, so I wait to see the film and when I watched this film, it made me very emotional.
I loved what the film was saying and what the film was about. My first exposure to Mexican music was when I was a kid and my dad had this crazy record collection – with everything from Mancini to Nina Rotta to crazy Russian music and there was this one album in there like, ‘The Music of Mexico.’
I remember as a kid down in the basement I would listen to that album over and over and I was struck with how melodic it was and how I could remember all these melodies and for me, it was all about these ensembles playing together and I loved the sound so watching this movie took me right back to my childhood.”
Source music is defined as music that is heard by the characters in a film and the filmmakers behind Coco wanted to create a deeper struggle for Miguel by immersing his world in music.
Although music was banned within Miguel’s family, it was important to the storyline to have his hometown of Santa Cecilia and his idol Ernesto de la Cruz wrapped in musical notes. Music consultant Camilo Lara shared that the team reached out to musicians in the Banda, Mariachi, and Yucatecan Trio styles of music to create a familiar atmosphere that exudes the feeling of Mexico, “the whole idea was to make music to have a sonic landscape that smells like Mexico.”
For the source music, the team recorded 70 minutes of music over four days in Mexico to ensure that the artists back at the studio would have a complete library of music to pull from to enhance the authenticity of the film that Camilo was referencing
Isn’t this what makes audiences love Pixar? Their preparedness and detailed nature which strives to get every detail “just right” is what drove the beginnings of the studio and is one of the reasons we connected with Pixar’s films early on — so, we’re glad that same level of detail is unchanged.
As the presentation transitioned to learning about the score of the film, we were treated to composer Michael Giacchino sharing how he wrote the four main themes of the film, all while musician Frederico Ramos played the themes on a real-life replica of Ernesto de la Cruz’s guitar (made by Cordoba guitars – see our review of the Cordoba guitars here).
Giacchino noted that Miguel’s theme was driven by a jovial feel of youth (being able to jump past any obstacle), while Hector’s theme was more of a slick salesman feel (only caring for himself). The other themes of “family history” and “family, in general,” were driven by melodic, thoughtful, and warmer tones.
On-hand working with Giacchino was Germaine Franco who the filmmakers called on to supervise the orchestrations of the score all while infusing them with Mexican flavor, “We really wanted to marry this idea of original music with elements of Mexican music without feeling like it had to be 100 percent folkloric,” she says.
Introducing several culturally relevant instrumentation to the score, Franco included musicians working on a guitarrón, folkloric harp, a Quijada, sousaphone, charchetas, jaranas, requintos, marimba, trumpets, and violins.
As Giacchino shared his first memory of Mexican music being a record in his father’s collection, he also stated, “Having the opportunity to work with Germaine and Camilo, I learned so much more about Mexican music that went far beyond that original album I listened to and learned how many different styles there were and types – it was incredible.”
The team also knew that since the film was so deeply rooted in music, they wanted the songs to be written early and drive the story of the film — rather than the other way around.
Germaine wrote several songs with co-director Adrian Molina, including “Un Poco Loco,” set in the Son Jarocho style of Mexican music, “This is one of my favorite types of Mexican music,” says Franco. “It involves a mix of indigenous, African and Spanish musical elements.”
One of the more emotional scenes of the film features a rather “tongue-in-cheek” tune titled, “Everyone Knows Juanita.” The scene is rather solemn as Chicharrón, an old friend of Hector’s is on the verge of being forgotten, and requests the playful composition.
Molina shared, “I wrote the lyrics to the song—it’s a lullaby that skirts the edge of sentimental but is also very tongue-in-cheek. We wanted it to play both the humor and emotion of the scene.”
The signature song of Coco is “Remember Me,” written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and arranged, orchestrated, and co-produced by Germaine Franco. The trio worked tirelessly to develop the thematic song, which is heard in multiple variations, from a boasting Ernesto de la Cruz, an operatic duo, a glass harp, and a tearful lullaby.
“Our collaborators at Pixar asked us to write a song that spoke to the Mexican bolero ranchero style with a nod to the 1920s and ’30s era,” says Anderson-Lopez. “We were so inspired by the film, the characters, and the Mexican setting that we dove in. Our goal was to come up with a song that could’ve been a hit in those days and in that culture.”
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We were thrilled to see that the passion and time they put into the score were also translated to the soundtrack as well.
Although you can purchase the physical soundtrack or stream it on Amazon, we really recommend the Apple Music or Spotify versions since they contain an additional 15 tracks.
These versions are separated into three virtual discs which the first is a collection of the original and source songs used in the English version. The second disc is the Spanish versions of the same original and source songs, and the third disc is Michael Giacchino’s brilliant score. We can’t say enough great things about the music from the film, including the soundtrack.
The Amazon physical copy has three fewer tracks than the download version (thanks to Mark in the comments for additional details), but still fewer tracks overall than purchasing the disc in any form (i.e., Amazon or iTunes). Your best bet is Apple Music or Spotify for the full experience.