The Book of Life is an animated film from 20th Century Fox that’s hitting theatres on October 17th. The movie stars the voice talents of Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, and Danny Trejo, so it’s already a geek’s dream, right? The story is a love letter to Mexican folk art, particularly the Day of the Dead artwork – but we’ll get to that in a sec.
The plot: two godlike beings have a bet during Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration. Is the heart of humankind pure and good? They decide to pit two friends – Manolo and Joaquin – against one another for the love of Maria, a beautiful, smart, and independent woman. Throw in bullfighters, a mega-bull, a museum tour, the afterlife, and art with tons of skeletons, and I want my ticket now.
I was interested in the film when I heard about the Day of the Dead artwork, because I always found the holiday, and the art surrounding it, beautiful. Then, I got a look at this book, and I was completely blown away by the breathtaking beauty and the colors that leap off the page and drag you into the story’s world.
In the book’s introduction, director Jorge R. Gutierrez says that he loved “art of” books as a kid, but would inevitably end up frustrated that what he saw in the films was increasingly different from what he’d see in those books. Here, he swears that the book and movie are one – and in that case, we are all in for a treat.
Gutierrez also says that “the unique look of the film is very much my passionate love letter to Mexican folk art”. And it IS. The book is page after page of stunning imagery and color, character studies, glimpses of the upcoming movie AND of bits and characters that didn’t make it into the final cut, sketches, and sculpts.
Rather than give us long histories of each spread that sometimes leave readers mindlessly flipping pages, Gutierrez keeps his commentary brief but packed with information. We learn about the characters and the scenery. We learn about Gutierrez and Co.’s inspiration, be it Olmec, Mayan and Aztec patterns, his visual storytelling style, the use of shapes and folk art symbols to communicate different ideas and concepts. We see his influences, which include such luminaries as Picasso, Dali, and most importantly, Gutierrez’s own family. His wife, animator Sandra Equihua, worked on the movie with Gutierrez, and she shows up, along with their son, on the Tree of Life mural at the end of the book.
Book of Life is going to be one of those films that you will want to see again and again, because there will always be something new to discover. In the meantime, this beautiful Art Of book will be a welcome addition to my animation bookshelf.
Don’t take my word for it, though – look at some of the artwork for yourself, and then get to a bookstore and pick up a copy for yourself. Pick up a copy for a friend, while you’re at it!
THE ART OF THE BOOK OF LIFE
Writers: Jorge R. Gutierrez, Paul Sullivan, Guillermo del Toro
Artists: Jorge R. Gutierrez, Paul Sullivan
Publisher: Dark Horse
Publication Date: October 01, 2014