“Remember Me” is unique among the Best Original Song nominees. Its love theme is central to Pixar’s “Coco,” helping pay tribute to Día de los Muertos as a unifying bridge for Mexican families. Sung in two very different styles, however, the song is also very personal to its composers, the Oscar-winning husband and wife team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (“Frozen”).
“It was really healing,” said Anderson-Lopez. “Bobby lost his mom in August and we did an ofrenda [collection of objects] with all of our relatives that we’ve lost in October. We sat around and told stories. It was a different kind of grieving then the kind you do at a funeral because it was joyful. We made it feel like she was with us and all of my relatives.”
Lopez’s mother was fortunate to hear “Remember Me” after it was composed. In fact, it was played at his grandmother’s funeral prior to his mother’s passing as well. And since the opening of “Coco,” Anderson-Lopez has received several Twitter responses thanking her for the song and how it’s helped them get over their grief.
Their participation began with director Lee Unkrich’s pitch. He asked the songwriters to compose a song “that in the beginning of the movie we hear one way and means one thing, and then we hear it later as the song was meant to be,” said Lopez.
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“We loved that idea because it didn’t sound like anything we’ve ever heard in a movie before where a song played so crucial a role to the story and the emotion of the film,” added Lopez. “And we were eager to write it but first we had to learn more about the music.”
Taking a Mexican Deep Dive
First the couple visited the Yucatán and were given a crash course in the many different styles and genres by consultant Camilo Lara. In particular, they were introduced to such ’30s icons as Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, who were the inspiration for Benjamin Bratt’s Ernesto de la Cruz.
“The history of Mexican music was almost like a college course here in our forties, way, way out of college,” said Anderson-Lopez. “We were introduced to mariachi, banda, jarocho, peteneras.”
Coming up with Two Versions
“Remember Me” appears as both a joyous celebration (sung by Bratt’s de la Cruz) and as a lullaby (sung by both Gael Garcia Bernal’s Hector and Anthony Gonzalez’s Miguel). But Lopez needed to write the melody for the lullaby before they could tackle the grand, ranchero-style showstopper.
“Bobby sat down to write it the next morning after we heard some of the beautiful Mexican standards and came up with this melody in his boxer shorts,” Anderson-Lopez said. “And I asked him to play it into my phone because I had to go into Manhattan for a rehearsal. So I took the Voice Memo and played it on the F train and wrote the lyric to the melody between Brooklyn and mid-town Manhattan. The lullaby version was a real easy one to write because I know how horrible it is to leave your children because you have to go do something far away for music, and it came from a very personal place.”
But then they needed the song to work note for note for the bigger version. “We re-envisioned it as an uptempo, mariachi tune. We even did an little orchestration with trumpets and violins,” said Lopez.
Songwriter-composer Germaine Franco came in “and brought an authenticity and vibrant color to the mariachi version,” said Anderson-Lopez. “It was so fun because they do a version of ‘Remember Me’ in all the regional genres we learned sprinkled throughout the movie. I’ve never seen that before. It’s a wonderful, little musicology lesson. It’s also really amazing how they were able to show a complicated family from the past and healing it. That seems to be part of the zeitgeist right now with ‘This Is Us.’ These family stories begin long before we’re born and being reconnected is a really good idea. And we were excited to capture that with ‘Remember Me.'”