coco teaser poster

What’s a Pixar movie without a lovable sidekick? Up had Dug and Kevin, Inside Out had Bing Bong, and Ratatouille had — arguably — Linguini. Of course, these sidekicks serve as more than just comic relief or witty one-liner machines. Pixar has been consistent in its generous handling of all of its characters, with some of these sidekicks receiving more of an emotional arc than other animated protagonists.

For Coco we have Dante, who has a few more layers to him than you’d expect for a street dog with only a few scraggly hairs on his head.

Dante is more than just a worn-down street dog — his haggard appearance is actually largely due to the fact that he is a Xoloitzcuintli dog, which is Aztec word for dog/god. The Xolos are an ancient breed dating back 3,500 years that are said to have healing powers and be guides to the underworld — hence Dante’s unwitting power to travel back and forth between the land of the living and the dead. Xolo’s naturally have hair heavy on heads, ears, tail, scraggly on the body — “it’s not an exaggeration in the film,” Nickolas RosarioCoco‘s directing animator said.

COCO

Dante provided Pixar animators another fun outlet to experiment with silent film-style comedy, relying on the dog’s overly long tongue and clumsy personality to “find as many gags as possible,” Rosario said. Xolos have abnormally long tongues, which the animators took huge advantage of in the film, making sure the tongue was always out and accessible in the shot. Rosario said that he referenced a lot of YouTube videos of dog tricks gone wrong and found that “you really don’t have to caricature dogs all that much.” He continued:

Lee was always pushing for this idea of a puppy in an adult-sized body. So his moves are not calculated, he’s just sloppy. He’ll get from point A to point B, but will go from C and D to get there.

One of the first pieces of test animation that the Coco team did was “Dante’s Lunch,” released as a teaser in a clip unrelated to the rest of the film. It was the sort of silent, visual storytelling that Pixar excelled in with the first 10 minutes of Up, but on the opposite side of the spectrum — namely that of uproarious Buster Keaton-style physical comedy.

Outside of his natural genetic attributes, Dante is first and foremost a street dog, so the animators took the liberty to “push” the character more in terms of wrinkles, worn out skin, and broken teeth. Rosario said:

Dante is one of the more pushed characters in the film so the articulation has to hold up for all the pushing, squashing that the character goes through. Brows are very expressive on dogs, so all the brow wrinkles. The neck has a lot of special wrinkles so if you squash his head onto his body, the wrinkles form and kind of look like an accordion. Also since the breed is so unique, and he is a street dog, you see a lot of the anatomy. So we put a lot of attention to details like all the bony landmarks, the tendons, seeing the rib cages enhanced. And the crossed eyes.

He added jokingly, “We’re kind of pushing it so much, we kind of felt bad for the dog after a while — we broke his ears, we broke his tail, he has skin issues.”

But don’t worry, he’s going to steal the movie regardless.

Coco hits theaters November 22.

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