Meet Pepita and Dante, the creatures of Disney•Pixar’s Coco
In Disney•Pixar’s Coco, young Miguel is on a search for a way to prove to his family how important music is in his life. We recently got a chance to check out the beginning of the film and learn all about the world of Coco at Disney•Pixar in Northern California. Two of the coolest characters we learned about were Miguel’s (Anthony Gonzales) buddy Dante, who is a Xolo dog, and Pepita, a fantastical spirit guide who is based on the Mexican art of the alebrije. Here’s all the info you need to know about the creatures of Coco from directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina.
In the film, despite his family’s baffling generations-old ban on music, Miguel dreams of becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Desperate to prove his talent, Miguel finds himself in the stunning and colorful Land of the Dead following a mysterious chain of events. Along the way, he meets charming trickster Hector (voice of Gael García Bernal), and together, they set off on an extraordinary journey to unlock the real story behind Miguel’s family history.
If you’ve seen the trailers and posters for Coco, you’ve likely seen Pepita. She is an alebrije, an amalgamation of a number of animals based on the Mexican folk art created by Pedro Linares. Pepita has eagle wings, a lion’s body, a lizard tail and the back feet of a chicken, as well as stunning, fanciful colors. Alebrijes are the spirit animals in the land of the dead and accompany and protect each of the residents. The folk art, as we learned from Molina, is hard to find in America and he actually brought in his own collection, both during the production process and for the press to see at Pixar. Every one of them is composed of different animals and painted with bright colors. We actually got to make one ourselves. You can see ours below.
We were told by the animation staff that the big issue with Pepita was finding out how she walked. She’s got bird feet in the back and big cat feet in the front, so they had to make her prowl in the front and sort of hop in the back.
Molina spoke about Pepita and explained what she’s all about. “That was one of the trickier stories to incorporate into the film. Alebrijes are Mexican folk art that you’ll see going through Oaxaca, but they’re not necessarily linked to a celebration of the Day of the Dead, but when you see them, they’re so lively and they’re colorful and they’re characters. We knew to see them in movement would be so special in this film. They’re kind of like spirit guides, they’re kind of like pets and really, they’re there to help you on your journey in the land of the dead and as such, they really kind of give something special both visually and spiritually while families are trying to find each other. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone, even if they’re not good at their job to help you on their journey.”
Dante is Miguel’s best buddy and and his companion to the land of the dead. He’s a street dog in the neighborhood and he helps Miguel conceal his love of music from his family. Dante is a Xolo dog, the national dog of Mexico. We learned from the animation department that this little guy posed a number of animation challenges. Disney•Pixar is used to animating hair and fur, but Xolo dogs are hairless. This meant that the animators had to work with rolls of skin which can’t be covered with a fur rig. Since Dante is a street dog, he’s a bit skinny and beat up. That meant that they had to have marks on the skin which would move around, and that the ribs would always be visible underneath. He’s also missing teeth, which allows his tongue to slide out of his mouth, something the animators used as a gag throughout the film. You can see it in action in the short below. Another fun fact we learned about Xolo dogs; they radiate a lot of heat and were often used to give relief to those with joint ailments by cuddling up against them.
Director Lee Unkrich told us about Miguel’s best friend, saying, “Dante was kind of in and out of the story at the time. Dante had to earn his way in. We didn’t want him to be just a token, cute dog along for the ride. We thought it would be great to have not just a dog, but a very specific kind of dog. The Xolo dog is the national dog of Mexico. They’re unique. I’ve never seen a hairless dog in animation. It’s kind of cool for people to see different breeds out there that they’ve never been exposed to.” He added, “we also did a lot of research into Mesoamerican beliefs, like ancient Aztec ideas about what it meant to die and the journey that you could go, to Mictlan, which was their land of the dead and we read that, even back then, Xolo dogs were part of that journey. There was a belief that Xolo dogs were necessary on that journey to the land of the dead to help guide you through some of the challenges you’d meet on your journey. It seemed perfect. If we had Miguel going to the land of the dead, he should have a Xolo dog.” Unkrich continued, “[Dante] is there to be adorable, but he also serves an important role in the story.”
Directed by Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3), co-directed by Adrian Molina (story artist Monsters University) and produced by Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3), Disney•Pixar’s Coco will be released in theaters on November 22, 2017.
Are you guys excited to see Coco and the adventures of Dante and Pepita? Let us know in the comments.