Watching ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ as a Teen Inspired Jorge Gutiérrez to Direct ‘The Book of Life’

Jorge Gutierrez at the NALIP Latino Media Awards on June 24, 2017 in Hollywood, California. Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for NALIP

Radiating positivity just like he does on Twitter, Mexican artist and animator Jorge Gutiérrez (The Book of Life) stole the spotlight with his insightful remarks during a conversation at the NALIP Media Summit addressing representation in animation, particularly in content targeting young audiences.

Gutiérrez, who is currently working on a limited animated series titled Maya and the Three for Netflix, described the change needed in industry as trees that have been planted and are slowly growing. “The people at the top are still not as diverse as we would all love to see, but the gender change and the colors are going up,” he said.

According to Gutiérrez, we’re in a golden era where local stories can be global and audiences are eager to see points of views they hadn’t seen before, but also noted that we as a community need to stop believing anything is done for altruistic reasons. “Hollywood is a robot, and that robot feeds on money, so if you tell that robot, ‘Shame on you, you should have more diversity,’ the robot doesn’t care. But if go, ‘Hey robot, did you see how much money Black Panther made? How much money Wonder Woman made?’ Then the robot goes, ‘Tell me more.’” Gutiérrez maintains the only way to effect change is by forcing those in power to understand they are leaving money on the table if they don’t let creators make diverse content.

Recalling the defining moment that inspired him to pursue a career in animation and tell stories from his perspective as a Mexican creator, Gutiérrez cited the stop-motion classic The Nightmare Before Christmas as the movie that ignited this desire. A senior in high school he ditched school to catch a screening, and when a small, but crucial shot came on, nothing was ever the same.

Representation in Animation panel at 2019 NALIP Media Summit. Courtesy of NALIP
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“There’s a tree with Day of the Dead skeletons in it, and that moment I literally stood up in the theater and I was like, ‘We exist.’ That’s where Book of Life came from. It felt like Henry Selick and Tim Burton allowed us to live in this universe. I was like, ‘I want to do that; I want to bring the world, bring the narratives into Mexico. I’m going to show them our culture. This feels like I got invited to a party, I want to invite them to my fiesta.’”

The need to celebrate Mexico in meaningful stories has always been Gutiérrez’s main purpose, even if at times there have been obstacles to staying on course. Today, every time he wonders if he should take on a venture that doesn’t align with his values but offers a major paycheck he remembers what Guillermo del Toro told him: “Gordo, you are an idiot. Yes, if you take the money you will get fat but your soul will starve. Feed your soul with heartfelt projects.”

The National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) seeks to inspire, promote, and advocate for Latino content creators in media. As a nonprofit organization, NALIP advances the development of Latino content creation through its programs focusing on narrative, documentary, TV, and digital formats. For more information, visit