Director Talks up Guillermo del Toro-Produced Dia de los Muertos Animated Film The Book of Life


“As a huge huge lover of Mexican culture and Latin art, I would say folk art from Mexico was an inspiration for the movie, and my favorite thing about folk art is that it’s art made by artisans for regular people. It’s the type of art that you take home and if it breaks, you get more; the type of art that your kids can play with.” At an exclusive art opening in Beverly Hills last night, director Jorge R. Gutierrez (cocreator of the Nickelodeon cartoon El Tigre) unveiled a first look at his new upcoming feature, a love story set in a world of articulated wooden figures, giant Aztec totems and Day of the Dead iconography.

Now, unfortunately we weren’t allowed to photograph any of the art, but I can try to give you a sense of how things looked. Imagine a mix of Cool World:


Corpse Bride:


John Kricfalusi:


…and Metalbeard from The Lego Movie. All through a filter of Mexican iconography.


“We are bringing new concepts and new images to this beautiful form of arty, animation, and we hope that you’ll discover them with us.” – Guillermo del Toro, in a video greeting.

The final output will be CG animation, but the art on display varied from paintings to drawings to wooden figures used for reference. Death is depicted as a woman, not unlike a Day of the Dead take on the Corpse Bride, but in bright red with a gigantic hat covered in candles. A giant bull with a totem-pole styled head faces down one of the heroes in one scene; in another, giant stylized floating skulls hover above a multicolored desert. What we were told of the story wasn’t much: it’s about a boy whose desires for what he wants to do with his life come into conflict wioth his family’s desires for him. Reading between the lines a little bit after hearing one of the movie’s original songs performed, my sense is that the boy comes from a family of matadors, and no longer wants to kill bulls.

“And the other huge inspiration for the movie,” said Gutierrez, “is the holiday of Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead, and specifically the core belief, which I’m a huge believer of. It’s this idea that those who came before us live as long as we tell their stories, as long as we sing their songs, as long as we cook their favorite dishes, they’re alive, they’re with us, and the moment we forget them, the moment we don’t talk about them, the moment we don’t acknowledge – then they really are gone. That is the core belief of this holiday boiled down to a nugget, so that’s what this film is. It’s a celebration of life, it’s a celebration of that idea, and it’s an acknowledgement of everything that came before us, and why we are who we are and how we go on to the next generation. So, that’s kinda where the movie was inspired by – my grandfather always told me, ‘Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.'”


“And so that’s where all the stories come from, and when you guys see the film, it’s how I feel about my wife, it’s how my mom and my dad got married, it’s how my grandfather was a terrible husband but a really cool dad. And the big thing about this movie is it’s really funny and it’s full of all these characters that feel really real, and they’re based on people we knew growing up – teachers I hated are now in the movie – and all these different characters that you’ll see. It’s really the history of Latin America in this movie.”

Emphasizing the “crazy eclectic” cast, the director mentioned Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Ice Cube, Danny Trejo and CheechMarin, but according to imdb, the range is even crazier: opera singer Placido Domingo has a part, as do Gabriel Iglesias, Christina Applegate, Channing Tatum and Ron Perlman (three guesses who brought him on board).

In addition to original songs, the soundtrack will have a unique overall bent inspired by Gutierrez’ upbringing. “One of the big parts of the movie is the music and I grew up in Tijuana , and so I grew up basically with the US on one side and Mexico on the other side, and I got to see and live the clash of the cultures. So the music in the film is that. It’s going to be covers of songs in the US and the UK, different places, but given a Latin spin.”

“Even though it looks like it takes place in the past, the music is very current. At this time I’m not allowed to tell you guys the covers we’re doing, but I can give one away and it’s a huge deal to me – I saw this kid play this song in front of a cantina full of drunk mariachis, and the biggest part was though he could barely speak English, when he played the song it was deadly silent. And it’s ‘Creep’ by Radiohead. Basically it’s all the songs that I just wrote in the script and I never thought we could get ’em, but the bands have reacted in a way that I’m blown away, they’ve been really really kind to us.”

I don;’ know if it’s part of the official soundtrack or not, but we also heard a female-vocal cover of U2’s “one” that had a Latin style, so maybe it’s in there too. And I wonder if this informs the design on the souvenir T-shirt I got on the way out:



Coincidence…or hint?

The Book of Life opens Oct. 17th.