Magazine article Screen International

Jorge Gutierrez, the Book of Life

Magazine article Screen International

Jorge Gutierrez, the Book of Life

Article excerpt

Despite a disastrous first pitch to Guillermo del Toro, Jorge Gutierrez succeeded in making a unique animated feature inspired by Greek mythology and Mexico's Day of the Dead.

Jorge Gutierrez, co-creator with his wife of the Emmy-winning Nickel-odeon animation series, El Tigre, could not get his first feature going until the Mexican Santa Claus stepped in.

When producer Brad Booker of Texas-based Reel FX Animation Studios Effects asked the Mexican-born artist who would be his ideal producer on The Book Of Life, there could only be one.

"Like all up-and-coming [Mexican] directors, I yelled, 'Guillermo del Toro!'," says Gutierrez. "And like the Mexican Santa Claus, sure enough he appeared."

As everybody knows, the great gift-giver comes at a price. In this case, Gutierrez would have to pitch directly to the dark genius behind Pan's Labyrinth and the Hellboy series.

Gutierrez admits readily the experience was "a disaster" as he contrived to almost fall into del Toro's pool and had to shout over the sound of gardeners with leaf-blowers.

"At the end of it he said, 'You know, Jorge, that's a terrible, terrible, terrible pitch, but there's something here, something magical.'"

Gutierrez says the pair bonded once he learned to fight his corner. "What he always kept telling me was, 'I don't want you to make something you think I want. I want you to make something you believe in.'"

Even with del Toro on board, Hollywood was sceptical until the team eventually struck gold. "Twentieth Century Fox's Jim Gianopulos and [Fox Animation Studios president] Vanessa Morrison heard the pitch and fell in love with the story, and here we are with the finished movie," the director explains.

The Book Of Life is not at all what one might expect. The famous Mexican tradition of honouring the dear departed is an important through-line, although the plot architecture derives from another culture.

"The Book Of Life is very much inspired by Greek mythology, especially Orpheus," says Gutierrez. "In mythology I've always loved stories where the humans teach the gods a lesson. So here we have two mischievous gods making a wager on the heart of mankind and there's a group of three friends -- two boys and a girl."

While the flirtatious deities Xibalba and La Muerte -- voiced by del Toro regular Ron Perlman and telenovela star Kate del Castillo -- do their dance, the story of the youngsters plays out. …

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