THE BOOK OF LIFE
Story and Characters
Our story begins in a museum, where we meet a mysterious tour guide named Mary
Beth, who has taken on the seemingly thankless task of guiding a group of rowdy
kids who would rather be anywhere else, on a tour. But Mary Beth has something
special in store for them, and escorts them into a secret room, where the magic
of THE BOOK OF LIFE begins to unfold. "This particular area of the museum looks
like Latin America basically exploded into it, turning it into a place filled
with life and color," says Gutierrez.
Mary Beth is voiced by Christina Applegate, who, says Gutierrez, brings a wealth
of charm, humor and warmth to the role. "I grew up watching 'Married with
Children,'" says Gutierrez of the television series that shot Applegate to
stardom, "so I was super excited to be working with Christina."
Applegate's Mary Beth introduces us to the principal characters and their
hometown of San Angel. We meet Manolo, who is torn between fulfilling the
expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path
to follow, Manolo embarks upon an incredible adventure that spans three
fantastical worlds, where he must face his greatest fears.
As voiced by acclaimed actor Diego Luna, Manolo is the heart and soul of THE
BOOK OF LIFE. Manolo hails from a long line of bullfighters, and he has the
potential to become one of the greatest ever. But what he really wants is to
play the guitar and sing. And sing he does - to an ultimately wondrous effect. "Manolo
reveals his heart through music," says Luna. "And he dreams about Maria and
being with her; he thinks she's the most amazing woman."
To that end, Luna notes that THE BOOK OF LIFE is about friendship and true love.
While Manolo comes into his own as an adventurer embarking upon a heroic quest,
the actor insists that Manolo is not your typical movie hero - and certainly not
your typical "Prince Charming." "He just happens to have an amazing talent,
which is singing and expressing himself through music, but he's a regular guy.
Manolo doesn't have special powers, but he is remarkable in that he is the first
one to write his own story," which is such an impressive accomplishment that an
ancient god is willing to bend the rules to help Manolo on his journey.
Luna had never before sung in a movie, and no one was more surprised and
thrilled when he pulled it off. "Diego called me [after the first song recording
session] and was very, very happy," Gutierrez recalls. "He said, 'Jorge, I can
sing!' And I love his voice in the movie."
The object of Manolo's affections, Maria, voiced by ZoĆ« Saldana, is an
independent, strong-willed and fun-loving young woman who is wooed by her best
friends Manolo and Joaquin, from their time as children to a reunion years later
She's certainly not your average "princess," and is equal-or superior - to her
suitors in any number of ways.
Maria is close to both boys, but perhaps the wistful Manolo is her true soul
mate. "Even when they were kids, Maria had a soft spot for Manolo," says
Saldana. "She understands and feels a connection to his sensitive nature. I
guess deep down, Maria is an artist and a philosopher."
And, maybe, she's a songstress, too? At the very least, Saldana loved the idea
of singing in the film, especially when she learned that Luna would be singing
as Manolo. "At first, I wasn't sure Jorge would take my request to sing very
seriously. And then, they told me, 'Well, there's this beautiful song, 'No
Matter Where You Are,' and we want you to be a part of it.' And I had a really
great time with the song."
Manolo, Maria and Joaquin - three best friends - have been close since
childhood. Their bond was interrupted when Maria, who was a bit too rebellious
for her father's taste, was sent to Europe to become a proper lady. Joaquin
joined the military academy and became a legendary bandit-fighter. But Manolo
didn't go anywhere - he stayed in San Angel and practiced to become a
bullfighter, as his father did before him, and his father before him.
"But even after this long absence, Maria discovers that Manolo and Joaquin
haven't changed a bit," says Saldana. "They're still fighting for Maria's
attention, but she's her own woman, who is going to make that decision - and
many others - on her own. She doesn't consider herself a prize that's going to
be won by one of these great guys."
Indeed, love has to wait; first Maria must make some tough decisions, sprint
into action to defend her town from marauding bandits, and tend to her
four-legged best friend, Chuy, a pig gifted to her by Manolo. A loyal and
protective pet, Chuy weighs in at over 300 pounds, sounds like a goat and acts
like a puppy.
Maria's other suitor, Joaquin, is voiced by Channing Tatum. Joaquin is the town
champion, whose mighty mustache and chest full of medals make the ladies swoon,
but like Manolo he only has eyes for Maria. When the stakes couldn't be higher,
Joaquin puts aside his ultra-competitiveness and learns that being selfless is
the key to true heroism.
Tatum notes that Joaquin has big shoes to fill. "He wants to be a champion like
his father, who was a great soldier. And he comes to understand that being a
true hero is a lot more than besting your enemy. It's about sacrifice and
standing up for someone or something you believe in," says the actor.
Heroism is all well and good, but Tatum admits that what he envied most about
Joaquin was something much more tactile than bravery. "I think he looks amazing;
I wish I had Joaquin's jaw and mustache. Joaquin is very proud of his 'stache -
wouldn't you be?!" (Diego Luna's Manolo doesn't fare as well in the facial hair
department; in fact, in a town full of mustaches, he's the only clean-shaven
principal male character.)
Surprisingly, Tatum's casting seemed pre-destined. "When we pitched Channing the
movie, he loved it and was laughing the entire time," says Gutierrez. "And then
he took me aside and said, 'You know I'm not Mexican, right?' We had a big
laugh, and Channing just jumped in and made Joaquin his own."
"I told Channing that Joaquin was basically 'Captain Latin America,'" Gutierrez
quips. "That he needed to have the bravado of Argentina, the smoothness of
Brazil - and of course, the mustaches of Mexico!" Tatum's retort: "Oh, so I
should just be me."
Gutierrez welcomed Tatum's improvisations, including one that will likely become
a signature character trait: Joaquin yelling his own name every time he leaps
Following Maria's return to San Angel, the trio is reunited at the bullfighting
arena, where Manolo is preparing for his first match. Manolo, like all the
Sanchez men who preceded him, battles bravely and skillfully. But unlike his
forebears, when the moment comes for Manolo to finish the bull, he refuses. The
whole town turns on Manolo, including his father who feels terribly let down.
Moreover, Manolo fears he may have thrown away his chance to woo Maria.
As if bucking family tradition wasn't enough of a barrier to Manolo's romantic
pursuits, two other principals have thrown themselves into the romantic
triangle, and they're betting it all on who ends up with Maria's hand. The
battling husband-and-wife deities La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron
Perlman) have made a wager, and the stakes for all of them couldn't be higher.
Resolute in her belief in the fundamental goodness of mortals, La Muerte puts
her faith in Manolo. If he succeeds in winning Maria's hand, then La Muerte will
remain the beloved ancient god who oversees a wondrous world called The Land of
the Remembered, and Xibalba must stop his meddlesome ways with humans.
La Muerte's estranged husband Xibalba is putting it all on the line on Joaquin.
Xibalba, a winged, ancient god who rules the desolate Land of the Forgotten, is,
like many couples, the polar opposite of his spouse. While La Muerte is made of
delicious sugar candy, Xibalba is made of tar and "everything icky in the
world," says Gutierrez. Xibalba enjoys interfering with the lives of humans, so
the wager with La Muerte is right up his alley. And if he wins, Xibalba will
take his wife's place as the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, while La
Muerte will be banished to The Land of the Forgotten.
Del Toro likens the warring couple's attraction to each other to "a Hepburn and
Tracy" dynamic. "They generally adore each other, but they can't be together,"
he says. "At the same time, they can't be apart."
"Xibalba and La Muerte play this kind of game with one another, which is part of
the romantic dance they have," adds Ron Perlman. "He really loves her because La
Muerte is the only woman he's ever met who completely fascinates him."
Kate del Castillo says the couple's relationship is a classic case of "opposites
attracting." It's also a kind of marital high-wire act. "La Muerte and Xibalba
balance each other," adds the actress.
As far as their friendly wager, the odds may be stacked in Xibalba's favor
because he doesn't play fair. "He'll do anything to win," says Perlman. First,
he gives Joaquin a magic medal that prevents the young soldier from ever getting
hurt. And while Joaquin is trying to win Maria with brawn, machismo and his
formidable mustache, Manolo's more romantic overtures seem to be yielding
results - until Xibalba tricks Manolo into thinking Maria has gone to The Land
of the Remembered, and the deceitful spirit offers him a chance to be reunited
At first, Manolo is delighted by what he finds in The Land of the Remembered.
It's an incredible world full of color and celebratory spirit. "It's New York
City's Times Square on New Year's Eve combined with Rio during Carnival," notes
Gutierrez. "It's this incredible party that keeps growing." Including: all you
can eat churros!
Manolo gets swept up in the parade of his ancestors, who to Manolo are
superheroes he's been hearing about his entire life. But his joy is tempered
when he discovers that Maria is not there - and indeed never made the journey to
The Land of the Remembered. With the support of his ancestors, Manolo embarks on
an extraordinary mission to find La Muerte, who is the only one who can help him
return to San Angel.
But first, he must travel to a portal, the Cave of Souls, between all the
magical lands. There, Manolo meets another spirit, the Candle Maker. With a body
made of wax and a beard made of clouds, the Candle Maker is a larger than life -
and kind of nutty - ancient god. He makes billions of candles, with each candle
representing a life. "The Candle Maker looks over - and geeks out over -
humanity," says lead animator Eric Dobrile.
The Candle Maker is entrusted with the titular tome, The Book of Life.
"Everyone's story is written in The Book of Life," Gutierrez explains. "But
Manolo's pages are empty, meaning he is writing his own story. He's not doing
what others, including his family, are telling him to do."
Though he's supposed to be hands-off with mortals, the Candle Maker bends the
rules a little to help Manolo. "He sees something special in Manolo," says Ice
Cube, who makes his animated feature debut voicing the Candle Maker. "The Candle
Maker has never seen blank pages in The Book of Life, so this is an exciting
thing for him. Also, it's The Day of the Dead, which provides some license for
him to break a few rules."
A bonus for the rotund, loud and lovable character is the chance to interact
with mortals, whom he hasn't seen in a very long time. "The Candle Maker is the
only one who can tell people what The Book of Life is saying, and The Book is
always saying something," Ice Cube adds.
As Manolo makes his way back to San Angel, a battle lies ahead for him and all
the townspeople. The grizzled and monstrous Chakal and his band of thieves are
preparing to raid San Angel, and it seems that no one can stop them.
The future of San Angel, as well as the destinies of Manolo, Joaquin and Maria,
will be determined by this final battle.
Chakal, voiced by Dan Navarro, is a formidable foe in every way, including
physically. While most of the characters are made of wood, Chakal and the
bandits' embracing of the dark side led them to put metal atop their wooden
frames, which eventually caused the wood to rot away, effectively turning Chakal
into a living wrecking ball of a man. When he walks down the street, it feels
and sounds like a tank rolling by.
The film's rich cavalcade of characters also includes Manolo's stoic father,
Carlos Sanchez, voiced by veteran character actor Hector Elizondo. Carlos is the
world's greatest bullfighter, and he cannot understand his son's obsession with
music and lack of interest in wielding the red cape. "Carlos is a great
bullfighter, his father was a great bullfighter, his father's father was a great
bullfighter - and so he expects Manolo to carry on in that tradition," says
Elizondo. "It's not only his legacy; it's his destiny."
But as Carlos learns, one's destiny is not always written for you. What doesn't
change is the importance of remembering one's ancestors. "THE BOOK OF LIFE, in
many ways, is about that remembrance," adds Elizondo. "It's about cherishing
those memories. After all, what are we if not memories?"
Manolo's feisty and quick-witted great-grandmother, known simply as Grandma
(voiced by Grey Griffin), is sure to become another audience favorite. Short in
stature but long of whisker and tough to boot, Grandma is more than a match for
the men in her family - past, present and future. "Grandma's kind of seen it all
and been through it all, and she's kind of our Peanut Gallery," says producer
Brad Booker, who adds that she's his favorite character in the film.
Also making an impact on Manolo's journey are: Carmen (voiced by Ana de la
Reguera), Manolo's wise, funny and nurturing mother with whom he is reunited in
The Land of the Remembered; General Posada (voiced by Carlos Alazraqui), Maria's
over-protective father and San Angel's kind-hearted leader; Luis (voiced by
Danny Trejo), Manolo's super-macho grandfather and an old-school, no-nonsense
bullfighter with a mustache that makes men cower; and Chato (voiced by Eugenio
Derbez), Chakal's right-hand man.
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