Exclusive: Guillermo Del Toro Talks The Book Of Life

'It’s about love not giving up'

Exclusive: Guillermo Del Toro Talks The Book Of Life

by Phil de Semlyen |
Published on

When the eye-popping new trailer for The Book Of Life broke last night, more colourful than an explosion at a Pantone factory, we jumped straight on the phone to its producer, one Guillermo del Toro, to get the low-down.

“It’s about celebrating love and life,” explains del Toro of a project he’s been working on concurrently with Crimson Peak. “The designs were mostly done by Jorge (Gutierrez), who I think is a brilliant visual genius,” he adds of his director.

Based on the Mexican Dia de Muertos holiday, the pair’s new animated adventure tells the story of a pair of friends, Manolo, voiced by Diego Luna, and town hero Joaquin (Channing Tatum), who both vie for the affections of the beautiful Maria (Zoë Saldana). For Manolo, alas, the path of true love has a venomous magical snake on it, and he’s sent spinning across three netherworlds in the hope of returning to reclaim his love.

As The Book Of Life’s producer, del Toro's skills were brought to bear reworking the storyline. He expanded the canvas, hanging its central love story around an epic quest, magical beasties and three characters whose destinies are yet to be decided. “When I came on board the story was very, very different,” he says. “We worked together in reshaping the story to give them a real journey, so they could travel through three magical lands in a very classic arc.”

He was originally introduced to his collaborator via Gutierrez’s Mexican TV superhero, El Tigre, a firm favourite in the del Toro household, and the pair’s creative sensibilities gelled naturally. “It looks so beautiful, so artistic,” del Toro enthuses, diverting credit for the creation of its three, kaleidoscopic worlds to his director. “My daughter loves his style, I love his style. He has a touch that makes it feel almost like handicraft: you can feel the wood, the ceramic. It’s quite remarkable. I think he’s unique.”

Music is writ large in the story, adding Mexican flavour to the carnival. “From the beginning, we agreed on doing covers of pop songs with a marimba or a mariachi or a bolero,” reveals del Toro. Overseeing the mariachi-fication is **Babel **composer Gustavo Santaolalla. “We have everything from classical, romantic Mexican songs to contemporary hits,” reveals del Toro, adding with a chuckle, “and ‘Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?’, rearranged with a mariachi.”

If the idea of Celtic sex lion Rod Stewart being retooled with additional Latin smoulder gets you hot under the collar, that might not be entirely coincidental. The Book Of Life could be del Toro’s first true love story and riffs on the great lovers of Greek mythology, as well as Mexican legends. “It’s the story of two lovers who refuse to be separated by anything,” he explains. “The characters have a very classic arc like Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s about love not giving up.”

As you’d expect from the Mexican, there’s personal resonance in the themes of love, death and celebration. “When I was a kid we celebrated [the Day of the Dead] in Guadalajara, my home town,” del Toro tells Empire. “There was a huge open-air market and they would sell all kinds of skulls: rubber, plastic, ceramic, and I remember going there with great enthusiasm and buying skulls. My grandmother used to take my brother and I there when we were very young.”

So can we expect some Book Of Life tie-in merchandise for that Guadalajara market? “I would love that!” laughs del Toro. “I hope we can make a few toy skulls.” Over to you, Hasbro.

The Book Of Life lands in UK cinemas on October 24.

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