With the animated feature “The Book of Life,” becoming available for digital HD download on January and coming out on Blu-Ray and DVD January 27, FGN had the pleasure to sit down with director the Jorge Gutierrez, composer Gustavo Santaolalla and actor Danny Trejo regarding their experiences with the movie, its development, and why they feel that the film is a must-see for every family to enjoy.
Set in 1910 Mexico, “The Book of Life” is the story of a young man named Manolo, (voiced by Diego Luna,) who must go on an epic journey through three awe-inspiring worlds as he struggles with true love or the pressures and responsibilities of family. In order to reunite with the woman who holds his heart and protect his village, he travels on a magnificent fantasy-adventure tale that is filled with original songs, covers of popular classics, and an entertaining quest for both young and old.
Director Jorge Gutierrez, creator of “El Tigre, The Adventures of Manny Rivera” on Nickelodeon, has been trying to get “The Book of Life” made for 12 years. But the warm, jovial and spirited man with the tenacity of the aforementioned Tiger himself, he persevered. “’No’ is just another step to ‘Maybe,’” Jorge quips, explaining how it took 8 years for his wife to finally say yes to his marriage proposals. “The ‘No’s’ build character.”
Producer Guillermo del Toro also turned Gutierrez down when the director was attempting to get “The Book of Life” made a total of four times before finally agreeing to meet with him. Although Murphy’s Law reared its ugly head in the worst way possible during their meeting – from a tequila-soaked script to leaf blowers drowning out the presentation, the “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Hellboy” director still saw something special in Jorge Gutierrez’s project despite the terrible luck his pitch for the film endured.
And although Jorge’s father was concerned by his son’s choices in career, his opinion clouded by the classic stereotype of the starving artist, he was deeply effected by his son’s feature film debut. When seeing the premiere of “The Book of Life” in Mexico City, throughout the movie he would constantly squeeze his son’s arm. After viewing the finished product he told Jorge, “this is the best conversation we’ve ever had.”
In Mexico the film has been criticized for not being Mexican enough, and in America criticized forbeing too Mexican. But Gutierrez is unruffled, shrugging it off by realizing that there will always be ‘haters,’ and that if you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one. “My grandfather was a great storyteller and the best advice he gave me, that got me in a lot of trouble, was ‘Don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story.’” Gutierrez is a perfect man for the job of bringing the balance of Latin and North American cultures together, being raised in Tijuana and thereby growing up right on the border of both Mexico and the United States. By having such an opportunity, “The Book of Life” lives firmly in both traditional and modern elements of both Central and North American cultures.This movie seems to finally be making an impact in the concept of diversity in this country, bringing the unique traditions of Dia de los Muertos to the masses within the United States.
Gustavo Santaolalla, the Oscar Award-Winning composer of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel,” was a critical element to the success of getting the film’s story told. Santaolalla, like any successful composer, understands that it is important to say in music things that would not be said in dialogue. A brilliant musician, Santaolalla actually does not read music, but with the help of Tim Davies’ orchestrations and the powerful lyrics of Paul Williams, (known by Santaolalla and others for such impressive projects as “The Phantom of the Paradise,”) both the score along with the original songs power the story along. The ingenuitive use of musical covers of songs like Radiohead’s “Creep” and Mumford and Sons’ “I Will Wait,” combined with classic Mexican music and culture of 1910 is a welcoming and trans-formative medium. Combine that with the voice talents of a diverse cast such as Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana and Danny Trejo, it is easy to see that this story is meant for anyone who celebrates life and family.
Trejo, who has become a cult icon with more R-rated fare as “Machete” and “Con-Air,” is nothing but proud of being a part of such a movie, especially once he saw its impact on his own family. An uncle of both a child with Autism and another with Asperger’s Syndrome, seeing the movie with them and witnessing the rapt attention his nephews held was simply further assurance that this was something unlike other animated movies out there. The actor, whose inspirational story and optimistic outlook on life leaves him not only charming but fascinating, had simple but honest wisdom to share.
“Now is the time to do whatever we want to do. Jorge just did a cartoon called ‘The Book of Life,’ and he’d been trying to do it for 12 years.” Known for his straight-to-the-point attitude, Trejo also added, “Either you want to compete, or you don’t. I would say I would rather shoot for the moon and miss, than aim for the gutter and make it.”
Gutierrez thinks very much the same. “I think we live in a really cynical world right now. Now it’s just normal to make snarky comments, so the most rebellious thing you can do these days is to be earnest. To me, that’s punk rock, that’s the rebel, to put your heart out there and say, ‘This is who I am.’”
“The Book of Life” is available now on digital HD download, and will be available January 27th DVD and Blu-Ray from Fox Entertainment. Special features include a never-before-seen animated short entitled “The Adventures of Chuy,” galleries, audio commentary by director Jorge Gutierrez, and more.