JoBlo.com Joins Guillermo del Toro and Jorge Gutierrez for The Book Of Life!
It’s exciting for me as a viewer to see Guillermo del Toro lend his name and talents to animated fare. We saw that spark with 2012’s RISE OF THE GUARDIANS and this coming October he is bringing the magic and wonder of the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead to life, thanks to the creative vision of director Jorge Gutierrez in his feature film debut. THE BOOK OF LIFE stars Diego Luna as Manolo, a young man who would rather pour his heart out in a song than become a matador as his family would like. His best friend Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is the medal wearing pride of the village and the two men are both vying for the heart of the lovely senorita Maria (Zoe Saldana).
We were invited by 20th Century Fox to a special sneak preview of the new film which was introduced by del Toro himself. The enthusiasm he shared was infectious, especially when we were given a glimpse at the colorful animation behind the film. After the introduction, Jorge took center stage to reveal approximately twenty-five minutes of the film, including the trailer – which was presented in 3D. Of course, he offered the caveat that what we were about to see has not been completed, yet it will be a visual feast when it arrives on October 17th. To this, I have not a single doubt, as what we did see was an incredible treat.
When del Toro introduced Jorge, he explained what it was he saw in this new filmmaker in a way only Guillermo can.
"He came in with a beautiful trunk with skulls and flowers and he wanted me to help him produce this movie. Back then, like now, I was trying to have a personal life. I have too much work and I don’t want to have to do something new. But first of all, he was fat, which is a plus in my book [Laughing]. This guy knows how to eat and he knows how to drink, so I’m in. But the other thing that was incredibly impressive was his images. I try as a producer to find first time directors and I’ve done it now many, many times, because I think that it is important to introduce new voices into the genre. And, when I saw these images, we started talking and little by little, I fell into his trap [Laughing].Once Mr. Gutierrez took the stage he went on to talk about what made this particular tale special to him.
THE BOOK OF LIFE is a very personal movie. There are going to be a lot of food metaphors. It’s a cook book from my family and all the dishes that everyone loves in my family are in there. All the recipes are in there and they all came and they are all earned. All these stories are basically the story of my family. Some elements are obviously more embellished than others, because as my Grandfather Luis used to tell me when I was five-years-old, he grabbed me and he would say, ‘Don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story!’ And I got in trouble a lot after that. My Grandma hated that saying [Laughing]. But it really became the moment where I fell in love with storytelling.He went on to talk about the look of the film.
Stylistically the movie is very much inspired by Mexican folk art and Latin American folk art. The reason I love Mexican folk art and just things that are handmade is the idea that it is art by the people, for the people, about the people. These are reflections of who we are. The movie is a love letter to that type of art work. Full of texture and you can see the traces of the artist in these characters.” This is apparent by the following footage with characters that looked as if they were handcrafted; especially the more spiritually inspired ones.The first scene involved a group of students trudging their way through a museum with a plethora of Mexican heritage art. Led by their tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate), the teens are presented “The Book of Life” and its many true and legendary tales of old. There is a nice amount of humor, although one long-haired dude apparently felt that every character in the book was very pretty – even the menacing Xibalba (Ron Perlman) who was created from tar and muck. The magnificently drawn La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) on the other hand is a skeletal beauty with a dark, red velvet, candle laden sombrero and gown. This fantastic site rules the colorful and impressive The Land of Remembering – a bright and shining shrine to Day of the Dead.
Xibalba, however, rules The Land of the Forgotten and he does so with a heavy heart. We discover that he once shared a romance with La Muerte. Eons ago, the two shared a bet – which he lost – and now he is envious of her life in the Land of Remembering and still very much enamored of her beauty. Of course he is still an evil trickster, not to be trusted. He convinces her to once again make a bet, and when they discover the young Manolo and Joaquin fighting for the already wise beyond her years Maria, they wager which suitor will ultimately gain her hand in marriage. There is a very clear sense of tradition and an old-fashioned sense of romance in the footage shown, one that is rich in history yet incredibly colorful and modern.
The next sequence presents a cleverly updated version of Mumford & Son’s hit single “I Will Wait” with a montage of Manolo growing up, forced away from the guitar and into the life of a matador. And, when he has finally accepted his fate and become the man his family wants him to be, he is reunited with Joaquin, as well as the mysterious and lovely Maria at a bullfight where he must prove his worth. However, when Manolo refuses to kill the bull after a successful bout he is booed and condemned by all those around him. This leads to another revamping of a classic song, Radiohead’s “Creep.” He sings alone and abandoned in the stadium, but what he doesn’t realize is that Maria hears the entire thing.
Music plays an important part in this feature – as does food – and the revamping of the mentioned songs as well as other musicians tunes including Elvis Presley, Biz Markie, Rod Stewart and Kinky. The mariachi sound is energetically arranged in a way that may please not only the children, but the parents familiar with the old hits. The legendary songwriter Paul Williams has written a couple of new tracks for the film as well. In what may be my favorite sequence from what we were shown, Manolo tries to impress Maria by serenading her in the moonlight along with three mariachi musicians who are not quite so well versed in the language of love. The tune – sung by Diego Luna himself – is a pleasant one and works perfectly well.
The final sequence is the aftermath of Manolo being tricked by the devious Xibalba into entering The Land of Remembering. Although he has turned into a skeleton – this is the place of the dead – he goes on to search for his ancestors to find a way to get back to Maria. Upon his journey he comes across the Candle Maker (Ice Cube) as well as The Book of Life itself. And this is still fairly early on as the young suitor sets off on what the press notes calls “an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds in order to rescue his one true love and defend his village.” I’ve got a feeling that Xibalba and Joaquin plan to make life very difficult for our hero.
After the footage, we viewed the very enticing trailer complete with the 30 Seconds to Mars song “Do or Die” where we got a sense of the scope of how big Manolo’s adventures are going to be. And yes, it looks to be a pretty incredible experience. The use of all the very provocative and beautiful images inspired by Mexican heritage and the Day of the Dead seems to be a perfect match for a Halloween animated release. THE BOOK OF LIFE is clearly a love letter to a history fueled heritage with magic, romance, song and adventure. I look forward to October 17th when we can see this larger-than-life story in full.
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