“El Tigre” Creator Jorge Gutierrez Moves Into Features with “Book of Life”

“Book of Life” producer Guillermo del Toro (left) and director Jorge Gutierrez

El Tigre co-creator Jorge R. Gutierrez is moving into feature film directing.

He continues the recent trend of TV artists transitioning into feature animation, following Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania and Rich Moore’s Wreck-It Ralph.

Gutierrez’s CG feature, Book of Life, will be released on October 10, 2014, by Fox Animation Studios. Unlike Tartakovsky and Moore who took over the reins of existing studio projects, Gutierrez is working from an original idea he’s been developing on and off since 2001.

The film, described in preliminary news reports as a Romeo and Juliet-style love story set against a Mexican Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) backdrop, will be produced at the Dallas animation house Reel FX.

Reel FX is best known for its Looney Tunes CGI shorts (I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, Coyote Falls) and other service work like the two Open Season sequels. They are making a push into original animated features with this film, as well as Jimmy Hayward’s Turkeys, which has also been slated for 2014.

Book of Life was optioned by Reel FX’s Brad Booker, but the film had originally been optioned in 2007 by DreamWorks. It never went beyond development at DreamWorks. Gutierrez cited creative differences between himself and the studio, but he says that Jeffrey Katzenberg was “a total gentleman” and returned all of his rights, which allowed him to take the project elsewhere.

The distributor Fox Animation Studios, which is a distinct entity from Fox’s subsidiary Blue Sky Studios, is a new contender in theatrical animation and all eyes will be on them as they prepare Book of Life as one of their first major releases. Further pressure was added last year by Pixar’s announcement that Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich would develop a Day of the Dead-themed feature of his own, though no release date has been set for the Pixar film.

Gutierrez’s career in animation up to this point could be seen as one giant warm-up act for this film. Born in Mexico and a graduate of the CalArts Experimental Animation Program, he has steadfastly labored to inject a Latino flavor into American animation for the past decade.

Mexican folk and pop culture plays a central role in nearly all of his work: his CalArts thesis film Carmelo (2000) was similarly Day of the Dead-themed; El Macho (2001), an early online animated series for Sony celebrated lucha libra culture; his Nick series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera (2007, co-created with his wife Sandra Equihua), was colorful Mexican pop made digestible for American audiences.

Book of Life gained mainstream cred when Guillermo del Toro, who is the most successful Mexican-born director working in Hollywood today, came on board as a producer. “As a true cinematic hero of mine, Guillermo del Toro has not disappointed,” Gutierrez says. “A true collaborator, he has taught me a ton. He has has been an incredible producer (he’s very hard on me and I am very thankful) and has really protected me and the integrity of the film.”

The script is being written by Gutierrez and veteran TV scribe Doug Langdale (who was the head writer on El Tigre). Gutierrez is designing all the characters with his wife and frequent creative collaborator, Sandra Equihua. Other key creative personnel include Simon Varela (Production Design), Paul Sullivan (Art Director), Ricardo Curtis (Head of Story), and Gustavo Santaolalla (Composer). The film will begin animation production this summer.

I’ll be rooting for Book of Life, not only because I’ve known Jorge for years, but because I know his capacity to handle this type of material. There is a need for authenticity and passion in mainstream feature animation, and at the very least, we can be assured that Jorge will bring those elements to the project.

Gutierrez’s arrival as a feature director also represents the inevitable, if unbearably sluggish, diversification of theatrical animation. Women, Asians, Latinos, Blacks and almost every other group of people have been underrepresented in Hollywood animation for decades. Today, the industry has no choice but to add new voices into the mix. Hispanics attend movies more often than other segments of the American population, and Latin America is the fastest-growing movie market in the world. The time is now for a film like Book of Life.


  • M.R. Horhager

    Looking forward to this one!

  • CG_Animator

    This sounds like a really cool project. Didn’t this used to be called “Day of the Dead” (or something like that?) at one point? Or am I thinking of a different project?

    • AmidAmidi

      Yes, that was the working title of the film.

      • jmahon

        hold on, isn’t that one of the announced future Pixar titles, or did I misread something? Either way this theme has been begging for a big colourful movie for a while, I can’t wait to see any materials and visual development appear for it!!

        • AmidAmidi

          Pixar hasn’t announced a title for their film. They’ve only said that it’s Day of the Dead-themed.

          • mark cee

            Which by the way, will be totally honkey-fied.

          • MykeTV

            Wrong. The Pixar movie in production WAS titled ‘dia de los muertos’. Then they announced they are changing the title of the film before release, thus making that previous title a working title. The Pixar movie is based on the same ‘setting’ as this film, The Book of Life. Pixar’s film will be released sometime after this one.

    • guavass

      it used to be month of the dead before the Spanish came

  • http://animationanomaly.com/ Charles Kenny

    So FOX now has Blue Sky, DreamWorks and their own studio? The fact that they got so much into animation kinda snuck up on me.

    I can’t wait to see this and sincerely hope the decision to use a studio that’s done mostly service work so far pays off for them.

    • LetsClearThisUp

      Well, Fox “has” Blue Sky. They have a 5-year distribution deal with Dreamworks and are distributing this one film with Reel FX.

  • Lou

    I’m getting tired of watching movies and series related to “El Dia de Muertos”, but it’s good seeing more Mexicans getting bigger projects in the field! Props for getting his project moving!

    • Abelsan

      As a Mexican native who has spent all of his life surrounded by mexican pop culture, I can say that I’m also tired that everything related to my country has to be adorned with day-of-the-dead stuff and masked luchadores and mariachis and La virgen de Guadalupe. It sometimes feel like a crude stereotype, you know? On the other hand, It’s great and cool to see brothers like Gutierrez and Del Toro doing great in the american film industry. I really want to see this when it comes out.

      • http://www.facebook.com/sant.arellano Sant Arellano

        I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I think it has the potential to be Mexico’s “Samurai Genre”, you think Japanese audiences ever get tired of watching films and anime about samurais? They don’t because it lends itself to a lot of variety. You can have both Ran and Samurai Champloo exist as samurai stories, but they are in opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of theme and style and tone.

        I agree that Gutierrez’s artwork is overflown with stereotypical Mexican motifs, but that’s just his style. Look at Grim Fandango! Same “Dia de Muertos” setting, but it’s film noir and its design is much more sober.

        I hope there’s more to come, and I really hope this film and Pixar’s don’t share more than the Dia de Muertos setting

        • http://www.facebook.com/jorge.r.gutierrez Jorge R Gutierrez

          I promise to make you guys proud. This I swear!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=770172078 Carlos Herrera

    ¿Gustavo Santaolalla? The music score of this film will be awesome!!!

  • PoorMarketingConfusesYou

    no they are unrelated, and this one’s idea existed since 2001 as you can see in the article. And it was also announced 6 months before Pixar’s.

  • Gurgi

    What’s the budget for this movie?

  • guavass

    “Mexican pop made digestible for [U.S] audiences”….Mexico is part of America, and all Mexicans are American.