“The Book of Life,” by director Jorge R. Gutierrez, is an incredible animated fantasy-adventure that spans three fantastical worlds in a manner never before seen by today’s audiences.
It begins in a museum, where a mysterious tour guide named Mary Beth (voiced by Christina Applegate), has taken on the seemingly thankless task of guiding a group of rowdy kids who would rather be anywhere else, on a tour.
But Mary Beth has something special in store for them, and escorts them into a secret room, where the magic of “The Book of Life” begins to unfold.
“This particular area of the museum looks like Latin America basically exploded into it, turning it into a place filled with life and color,” said Gutierrez.
Applegate’s Mary Beth introduces us to the principal characters and their hometown of San Angel. We meet Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart.
Before choosing which path to follow, Manolo embarks upon an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds, where he must face his greatest fears.
Manolo is best friends with Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana) and Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum)—the three best friends have been close since childhood. Their bond was interrupted when Maria, who was a bit too rebellious for her father’s taste, was sent to Europe to become a proper lady.
Joaquin joined the military academy and became a legendary bandit-fighter. But Manolo didn’t go anywhere—he stayed in San Angel and practiced to become a bullfighter, as his father did before him, and his father before him.
Its journey to the big screen began with, appropriately enough, a friendship.
Producer Brad Booker, a Reel FX development executive, had known Gutierrez for over a decade, and after hearing of the project, Booker believed Reel FX would be a great home for it. The independent animation studio knew that the film needed the perfect creative partner to help guide its path and development.
Gutierrez’s first choice: legendary director, producer and author Guillermo del Toro, who like Gutierrez hails from Mexico. Gutierrez felt del Toro’s authentic perspective and unique aesthetic sensibility were a perfect match for the film. Reel FX executives facilitated the initial meeting, which proved to be a pivotal and memorable moment.
The movie’s design is inspired by Mexican folk art and Latin American folklore, both of which Gutierrez is an ardent fan. “I love Mexican folk art because so much of it is handmade and it’s art by the people, for the people, about the people. It’s really accessible and a reflection of who we are.”
‘The Book of Life’
“The Book of Life” brings together Gutierrez’s perspective of his native country with a story to which everyone can relate. He explains: “This is a very personal movie. The inspiration comes from my family history and childhood experiences.”
Still, Gutierrez admits he embellished some elements. “My grandfather Luis used to tell me, ‘Jorgito, don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story!’ And that was the moment I fell in love with storytelling.”
One of the many traditions Gutierrez explores for his tale is The Day of the Dead, a holiday that celebrates the lives of those who came before us. “The Book of Life” is not about The Day of the Dead, but we use it as the canvas on which we paint our story,” Gutierrez explains. “It’s more than a holiday; it’s a philosophy. The core belief behind The Day of the Dead is that as long as you remember those who came before you, and as long as you tell their stories, cook their dishes, and sing their songs—they’re with you. They live inside your heart.”
“The Book of Life” (2Dand 3D) opens Oct.16 in theaters nationwide from 20th Century Fox to be distributed by Warner Bros.