Guillermo Del Toro Brings to Life a Magical Mexican Version of the Orpheus and Eurydice Folk Myth

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By/Por Ray Falcon, Special for LWR

First of all, the story of The Book of Life:

The story focuses on the romantic, strong-jawed Manolo, who has big problems besides the growing competition with his best friend. Manolo dreams of breaking away from his family’s rich history of bullfighting to play the guitar, much to the dismay of his father, the world’s greatest matador (Hector Elizondo) and super-macho grandfather (Danny Trejo).

This journey takes him from the Land of the Living to the Land of the Remembered, where people who have lived complete lives, and are remembered among the living, go after they die. A final, daunting destination is The Land of the Forgotten, where those who have died with unfulfilled lives dwell.

Along the way Manolo meets his bullfighter great-grandfather, who always wanted to be an opera singer (Placido Domingo) but never followed his dream. There are also wild characters including Candle Maker (rapper Ice Cube), an ancient god with a body of wax and a beard made of clouds.

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For the record

Some weeks ago, Fox invited some scribes over to the Little Theatre to see preview footage of Guillermo del Toro-produced 3D animated/action adventure comedy/romance “The Book of Life,” which comes out October 17, just before Halloween.

Yesterday they’ve released the tráiler.

Smartly, they’re backing workaholic Del Toro’s latest production, which will play like gangbusters to the under-served Hispanic audience, the fastest-growing moviegoer demo–as well as everyone else. Del Toro likes to take on talented young filmmakers like Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona, who followed up smart-house horror thriller “The Orphanage” with English-language tsunami drama “The Impossible” and TV’s horrific “Penny Dreadful” and is now prepping “World War Z 2.”

This time the young filmmaker is Mexico City-born Cal Arts grad Jorge Gutierrez, who 4 1/2 years ago pitched Del Toro his vision of a magical Mexican Orpheus and Eurydice folk myth using stop-motion animation and hand-made wooden puppets, in which a young bullfighter (Diego Luna) and and an heroic Captain Latin America (Channing Tatum) tustle over the same childhood love (Zoe Saldana).

“I saw purity and uniqueness,” Del Toro told us. “I saw a world so unique and powerful that could embody the complexity of the culture he was trying to represent. The worst thing is when something looks like every other animated movie. The worst thing that is happening to film is that it will uniform itself into one flavor. This has an identity. It has the possibility of being universal because it is so particular. We’re creating a dish with a world of flavor, with a delicious mole sauce, chile, chocolate, peanuts. Otherwise you end up with catsup.”

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This Mexico, Del Toro promised, “is not just as folklore memory. It’s punk, scat, rock ‘n roll modernity. It’s a colorful and playful celebration of the life of all those who came before us.”

“He’s the Mother Theresa of film,” said the grateful Gutierrez, who showed Del Toro his shorts. “It’s crazy.” He credits his producer with keeping him focused, on a simpler track, trying to get his “ideas across in a cleaner way.”

The movie is also, Bollywood-style, about unabashed big feelings. “The new punk is emotion,” said Del Toro. “The world is so cynical.” Gutierrez is also respectful of the women in his movies: his wife Sandra designs them, while he sticks to the males.

The movie is infused with the hallucinogenic bright-acid color palette familiar from Mexican dolls; the impressive footage also featured an eclectic voice cast including Ron Perlman, “La Muerte” soap opera star Kate del Castillo, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Hector Elizondo, opera star Placido Domingo, Danny Trejo and Cheech Marin. was impressive indeed. Inspired by and referencing myriad elements from The Day of the Dead and opera to animators Richard Fleischer and Hayao Miyazaki, Mad Magazine and video games, Gutierrez said, “my grandfather told me never to let truth get in the way of a good story.”

The two filmmakers and Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla had fun combining volatile musical elements, creating hybrids of 90s bands Radiohead and Cafe Tacuba, Elvis Presley and other musical cultures. One song is a ranchero version of “I Will Wait for You.” Paul Williams composes two original songs.

HD trailer here and below:

Check this out on Latino Weekly Review.

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