In 'Coco' child star's story, life and art intertwine

Thirteen-year-old Luis Angel has a lot in common with the character he plays in the hit movie "Coco," the favorite to win this year's Oscar for best animated film.

The movie, set against the backdrop of Mexico's colorful Day of the Dead festival, tells the story of a boy named Miguel who fights against all odds to realize his dream of being a musician.

With his twinkling eyes and beaming smile, Luis Angel Gomez Jaramillo, who voiced Miguel in the Spanish-language version of the film, looks a little like his character.

He also shares his passion for music and, like Miguel, has battled long odds to sing.

"I identified a lot with the character, which may be one reason I did the movie," he told AFP.

Luis Angel, who comes from the sleepy colonial town of San Francisco del Rincon in central Mexico, had taken some voice lessons, but had little experience singing for an audience.

He just loved to sing -- something he inherited from his grandmother, who got him started singing at five years old.

He dreamed of making it as a musician, but it wasn't easy at first, his mother recalled.

"His first auditions were hard," with a string of rejections, said Blanca Gomez Jaramillo.

- YouTube, how do you do voiceover? -

Luis Angel's first break finally came when he landed a spot on the Mexican version of the reality show "The Voice Kids."

He charmed viewers with his cute face, country manners, cowboy clothes and spunk.

He didn't make it to the final round of the show, which aired last year. But several videos of him went viral online, and that is where Pixar producers found him.

They invited Luis Angel to audition, and he landed the part with his soaring voice, impressing director Lee Unkrich and the production team with his rendition of the movie's theme song, "Recuerdame" -- whose English-language version, "Remember Me," is up for Best Original Song at the Oscars.

There was just one problem -- Luis Angel had no idea how to do voiceover work.

"I had to learn overnight. I typed 'how to do voiceover' in YouTube, and found some advice," he said.

Judging by the film's success, he must have gotten something right: "Coco" is Mexico's highest-grossing film of all time, bringing in $57.8 million here, out of a total of more than $730 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.

It has also been a success with critics, winning the BAFTA award for best animated film and 11 Annie Awards, for excellence in animation.

It has all been a wild ride for Luis Angel: fame, media interviews, a nationwide tour and red-carpet galas with co-stars like Mexican actor Gael Garcia Bernal.

- 'Never let go' -

Luis Angel's musical hero is Pedro Infante, the star of dozens of classic musicals from the golden age of Mexican cinema, from the 1930s to 1950s.

Infante was the inspiration for the superstar musician in "Coco," Ernesto de la Cruz -- who is, fittingly, Miguel's hero in the movie.

But unlike Miguel, who is growing up in a family where music is forbidden because of a dark secret from the past, Luis Angel says he got nothing but support from his mother, who is raising him alone.

He may get his fighting spirit from her.

"I endured a lot of criticism, for being a single mother and for supporting him in his dream of being a singer," she said.

"I've done everything I could to help him. I've even gone as far as to climb on stage and sing with him to show him there's nothing to be afraid of."

The lesson was learned, says Luis Angel.

"If you have a dream, you have to grab hold of it and never let go."

 

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