‘Coco’ star Benjamin Bratt hopes for crossover impact from Pixar film

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Benjamin Bratt attends Disney-Pixar’s “Coco” premiere on November 8, 2017, in Los Angeles. | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — One of the big things Benjamin Bratt loves about “Coco,” the new animated film from Disney-Pixar (opening Wednesday) is “the fact it will bring our Latino culture to a broader audience.”

The movie focuses on musically talented Miguel (voiced by young newcomer Anthony Gonzalez), who is part of a Mexican family that has forbidden music in their lives since an incident a couple of generations in the past. A key element in “Coco” is the “Day of the Dead,” the annual post-Halloween celebration in various Latin cultures — honoring the spirits of departed ancestors.

“The movie not only celebrates who we are as a Latino people, but it serves to re-introduce us, in a different way, to the rest of the world,” said Bratt, who voices the character of a deceased famous singer. “It shows our uniqueness but also demonstrates the fact we all are, more or less, the same, at the end of the day — no matter what our culture or nationality may be.”

Noting that Chicago “has a huge Latino, especially Mexican population,” Bratt recalled earlier visits to the city over the years. “In particular, I remember a few years ago, probably back in the late ’90s or thereabout. It was when I was [playing Detective Rey Curtis] on ‘Law & Order,’ which was obviously a hugely popular show.

“The people in Chicago were so nice, and several of them came up to me on one day I remember — but separately, as I was walking around downtown. They all said the same thing, “Oh hi! I love your work. It’s so nice to see you. … You’re, uh, that guy! …. Uh, don’t tell me!’ as they struggled to remember my name.

“A couple did say, “Oh, yeah! You’re Rey!”

Another of the key actors in “Coco,” Gael Garcia Bernal, has a different yet equally fond memory of time spent in Chicago. “I’ve been to Chicago several times, but the first one was the best. We were there to present our film ‘Amores Perros’ at the Chicago [International] Film Festival — and we won! That was back around 2000. … People took me to Pilsen, your Mexican neighborhood, and the people made me feel very much at home!”

The new Disney Pixar animated film “Coco” celebrates the “Day of the Dead.” | Disney-Pixar

The new Disney Pixar animated film “Coco” celebrates the “Day of the Dead.” | Disney-Pixar

Given his own Mexican heritage, Bernal called being cast in “Coco” a “mixture of luck, and maybe destiny.” Like Bratt, who is of Peruvian descent, Bernal hopes a broader audience, beyond the Latino communities, will go see the new Pixar film.

“Yes, it will bring the Day of the Dead celebrations to more people, but it also teaches us about family values in a universal way. We live in a world today with so few certainties. I also think this film will open up discussions about what does happen when we die. Who has the final answer about that?

“No one, of course, really knows. I think ‘Coco’ will begin conversations about that subject — and in a way that will be good for children, too.”

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