Día de los Muertos or Day of the Dead, a holiday that celebrates those who have passed will come alive in the movie of The Book of Life. It is director and animator Jorge Gutierrez’s first feature film, and he says it’s his own take on what happens after death. Set in the 1920s in Mexico, the animated movie centers on the fiery and brave Maria Posada voiced by Zoe Saldana, and her two suitors: the handsome town hero Joaquin voiced by Channing Tatum and the soft-spoken Manolo, voiced by Diego Luna, who comes from a long line of bullfighters.
And, as one might expect in a film about Día de los Muertos, some of the characters are transported to the afterlife. At first, it looks like a lively Mexican fiesta, filled with music and bright, colorful papel picado cut-out paper decorations. Ruled by a sensuous “La Muerte” voiced by Kate del Castillo, this land has “epic fiestas, and all you-can-eat churros.”
But if you were a bad person, Gutiérrez says, you go to the land of the forgotten. To show the culture’s complexity, the soundtrack includes Mexican bolero and norteno versions of songs by Radiohead, Rod Stewart, Mumford & Sons and Biz Markie. As an aficionado of folk art, Gutiérrez even had a team of Central American artisans carve wooden puppets of the movie’s characters, which were later rendered by computer animation. “Jorge wanted to create this world that felt handmade, with wooden puppets and metal and paint,” says the producer The Book of Life, Guillermo del Toro. “Really feels very much like Mexican baroque.”
“I along every other Latino, pretty much were outraged and shocked when Disney tried to copyright the term ‘Día de los Muertos,’ or Day of the Dead,” said cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz. By contrast, he said, 20th Century Fox’s new film by Gutiérrez and Del Toro is much more grounded in the culture.
“To have two people that understand the topic thoroughly and respect it, and can play with it, it was good,” Alcaraz said. “It’s a playful way to treat a serious topic: The love of a family member, you know, you forget about them, and one day you will see them again. And that’s what the Day of the Dead holiday is all about, is remembering your family and remembering that love, so that’s what Book of Life is about.”
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