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‘Coco’ director on its similarities to ‘Back To The Future’

Lee Unkrich also reveals his biggest cinematic influences on the latest Pixar film, too.
Coco and Back To The Future
[Images: Pixar and Universal]

There are some minor SPOILERS ahead for Coco. So if you haven’t seen the latest Pixar film then you should proceed cautiously.

While “Coco” sparkles with originality, especially in its depiction of the colorful and visceral Land Of The Dead afterlife, there are some rather striking similarities between the latest Pixar release and “Back To The Future.”

“Coco” is never so blatant with its links to “Back To The Future” that you ever feel as though it has directly stolen from the classic 1985 sci-fi comedy, but there’s just enough there for you to take note.

First of all, both leading protagonists have to magically travel to a different world to connect with a previous generation of their family. Both Miguel and Marty also play the guitar, and have to do so in the final act to stop from fading away, while the two films also have a photo at the heart of their plots.

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When I spoke to “Coco” director Lee Unkrich, who also came up with the idea, I asked the filmmaker whether or not he or his team were aware of the similarities to “Back To The Future” during its development.

“We probably were. I wouldn’t say we were cribbing from it, but we were definitely aware that by choosing to have Miguel slowly turn skeleton over the course of the movie that ‘Back To The Future’ had something of a similar vein. But if you’re going to steal from anyone steal from the best.”

But it wasn’t just “Back To The Future” that was a major influence on “Coco,” as Unkrich insisted that they watched a vast array of different films during its development. There were two in particular that they repeatedly used as reference points, though.

“We definitely watched a lot of movies. I watched every movie that had a depiction of the after-life or a heaven, all through cinema history. We also watched a lot of movies about kids being in a situation where they had a passion but their community or family didn’t support them. There were two films in particular that were touchstones for us.”

“One being ‘Billy Elliot’ and the other being ‘Whale Rider.’ Both of those are very emotional stories about kids being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Their family doesn’t accept what they want to do, but they also love their family. And that’s a hard thing to reconcile. And that was the central conflict that we imagined for Miguel in this story.”

You can now head to your cinema to try and spot where and when “Coco” is specifically influenced by these films, as it was released on November 22.