How the animation movie, The Book of Life, helps remember those who came before you

Growing up as a Latina in Los Angeles in the 80’s was awesome. I grew up in the Valley so I should probably say it was totally tubular and rad! Our close proximity to Mexico meant families, like mine, could travel back and forth to relatives and, thereby, maintain our cultura.

During Latino holidays, like Dia De Los Reyes (Three Kings Day ) or Las Posadas

(re-enactment of the search for lodging that Mary and Jesus did nine days before Christmas), we were fortunate to find traditional garments, foods and objects that supported the holidays and traditions. One of my earliest Latino traditional holiday memories was El dia de los Muertos, or the day of the dead.

As a young girl I have to say it wasn’t my favorite holiday. It scared me with the skulls, and all the talk about death. There were altars made with pictures of family members who had passed. The altars had all their favorites: foods (or cerveza), music, books, jewelry, etc. Let’s be honest, it just made me sad. Loved ones had passed and seeing them made me sad all over again because I missed them.

Fast forward to 2014 and I see the promos for the animated movie, The Book of Life, and I’m a bit skeptical. Do I take my kids to see a movie based on the Latino tradition that scared me as a young girl? My kids made the decision easy for me as they counted the days until it’s release. I have to say, I am so glad we went to see it.

THE BOOK OF LIFE, is a vibrant fantasy-adventure, that tells the legend of Manolo, a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds in order to rescue his one true love and defend his village.

The movie presented a grand mythology set in visually spectacular worlds never seen before. I loved that the film which had a pleasing mix of adventure, action, comedy, romance and music all brought together by director Jorge R. Gutierrez’s unique visual style.

When given the opportunity to interview Jorge R Gutierrez at the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, I jumped at it! It was here in the Benedict room that he shared the movie’s journey to the big screen which began with, appropriately enough, a friendship.



The story goes that Producer Brad Booker, a Reel FX development executive, had known Gutierrez for over a decade and was eager to collaborate with him. The two filmmakers knew the project needed the perfect creative partner to help guide its path.

Gutierrez’s first choice: legendary director, producer and author Guillermo del
Toro, who like Gutierrez hails from Mexico. Gutierrez felt del Toro’s authentic
perspective and unique aesthetic sensibility was a perfect match for the film.

I was riveted by the story he told how him and Booker showed up at the home of Mr. del Toro, bearing gifts and artwork from the film. Although Mr.del Toro was initially hesitant to take on another assignment, he was drawn to Gutierrez’s vision and stunning imagery and equally impressed by Gutierrez’s passion for what would become THE BOOK OF LIFE. And as they say in the biz, the rest is history.

Growing up I don’t remember a movie like this before The Book of Life which presented an exciting, never before experienced depiction of Mexico, its people and its traditions –all in a way that would be accessible to audiences around the world. Not to mention with a story to which everyone can relate.

Gutierrez explained: “This is a very personal movie. The inspiration comes from my family history and childhood experiences.” Still, Gutierrez admits he embellished some elements. “My grandfather Luis used to tell me, ‘Jorgito, don’t ever let the truth get in the way of a good story!’ And that was the moment I fell in love with storytelling.”

Along with beautiful storytelling, music is a big part of the magic of THE BOOK OF LIFE. Mr. Gutierrez shared how production was lucky to land the formidable talents of two-time Oscar® winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla, the father of Latin alternative music, making his animated feature film debut.


Under his supervision, the filmmakers landed rights to cover, with a Latin twist,
beloved songs from Mumford and Sons (“I Will Wait”), Elvis Presley (“Can’t Help Falling in Love”), Radiohead (“Creep”), Biz Markie (“Just a Friend”), Rod Stewart (“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”). Additionally, there are beautiful, original songs written by Santaolalla and the award-winning Paul Williams.

“The music hails from all cultures and eras,” says Gutierrez. “The story is set in the past but the music is current. And the idea behind the characters singing these familiar songs is that mariachis don’t compose music; they sing familiar songs. So that’s what Manolo does; he grabs music from the culture.” And who is more of a cultural icon than the voice of Luis (voiced by Danny Trejo), Manolo’s super-macho grandfather and an old-school, no-nonsense bullfighter with a mustache that makes men cower. His roles in Deathwish and Machete.


After reflecting on the movie and getting the chance to talk about everything that went into making the movie: from the initial meeting with the Mr.del Toro, how the music composed by Mr. Santaolalla played a huge part and of course all the characters like Mr. Trejo, how could this movie not be as successful as it was. I enjoyed listening to them all but especially Mr. Gutierrez’s passion for the story.

In the end, “THE BOOK OF LIFE is not about The Day of the Dead, but we use it as the canvas on which we paint our story,” Gutierrez explains. “It’s more than a holiday; it’s a philosophy. The core belief behind The Day of the Dead is that as long as you remember those who came before you, and as long as you tell their stories, cook their dishes, and sing their songs -they’re with you. They live inside your heart.”

Hearing that healed that little girl celebrating a holiday she didn’t fully understand and , more importantly, renewed my resolve to teach my children about this beautiful cultural tradition.

Didn’t get a chance to catch it at the theater? No worries! It’s now on Digital HD
But Fox Home Entertainment will release The Book of Life to Blu-ray/DVD on 1/27!!


  • The Adventures of Chuy
  • Closer Look At The Book of Life
  • The Music of Life
  • Digital Carpenters: The Art Direction of The Book of Life

About the blogger:
Sonia Smith-Kang is a multi-cultural mom of four. Born to a Mexican mom and Black father, Sonia was born in Puerto Rico, moved to Hawaii before settling in California where she met her husband, who is Korean. Together they raise their four children as mini global citizens speaking three languages and celebrating their cultural diversity. Sonia shares how her experiences on her blog, appropriately named, The Mixed Up Blog,



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Disclosure: I was financially compensated for this post; however, all thoughts and opinions are my own.