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How Jorge Gutierrez brought Day of the Death to Hollywood

How Jorge Gutierrez brought Day of the Death to Hollywood

Posted by Liliana Castaño on October 24, 2014

Face sweating, heart pounding, Jorge Gutierrez began to deliver the worst pitch of his career.

It was 2012, and the Mexico City-born animator had arrayed skulls, flowers and ornate drawings around the San Fernando Valley backyard of his idol, director Guillermo del Toro. His aim was to persuade Del Toro to produce his first film, a movie centered on the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday.

As one of Hollywood's most bankable Mexican filmmakers and leading fantasists, Del Toro had already passed on umpteen pitches on the same topic. Even so, he offered the young animator five minutes of his time.


"The Book of Life"

Mexico City-born animator Jorge Gutierrez brings the distinctive feeling of Latin folk art to the film "The Book of Life." (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)


"The moment my mouth opens, the gardeners next door start blowing their leaf blowers," said Gutierrez, who is best known as the co-creator of the Nickelodeon cartoon "El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera." "I'm yelling. I almost fall in the pool. ... At the end, Guillermo goes, 'Jorge, that was the worst pitch I've ever heard.'

"'But ... I know your version of Mexico. I want to work with you.'"

The result of that partnership is the animated movie "The Book of Life," which opens Friday.

With a voice cast that includes Mexican actors Diego Luna and Kate del Castillo, a soundtrack containing mariachi versions of Radiohead and Biz Markie songs and a plot and characters as intricate as an Aztec textile, "The Book of Life" is one of the bolder and more authentic examples of a Hollywood studio reaching out to the growing audience of Latin moviegoers in the U.S. and Latin America.

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