A Pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda Could Have Turned The Book Of Life Into 'A Hip-Hop Salsa Reggaeton Musical’

A Pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda Could Have Turned The Book Of Life Into 'A Hip-Hop Salsa Reggaeton Musical’

The year was 2007. Lin-Manuel Miranda had yet to conquer Broadway with "Hamilton," much less position himself as the heir apparent to Alan Menken at Disney. Meanwhile, DreamWorks Animation was still making "Shrek" sequels and had somehow convinced itself "The Bee Movie" was a good idea (more on that later). Enter Jorge Gutiérrez, who had only just made his name with the flash-animated Nickelodeon series "El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera," which he co-created with his fellow animator and wife, Sandra Equihua.

As fate would have it, Miranda and Gutiérrez came very close to teaming up on the latter's 2014 animated feature directing debut, "The Book of Life." For those not familiar, the film is a Mexican folktale that takes place against the backdrop of the Day of the Dead and centers on a love triangle formed by three childhood friends: musician and would-be bullfighter Manolo (Diego Luna), local military hero Joaquín (Channing Tatum), and the spirited Maria (Zoe Saldana). Lusciously animated, combining a kaleidoscope of pleasing colors with characters designed to resemble hand-carved wooden figures, it's a winsome work full of romance, adventure, and camaraderie. But it could've been something entirely different, had DreamWorks paired Miranda with Gutiérrez as they originally wanted.

A Little Less Book Of Life, A Little More In The Heights

In an interview with /Film's Rafael Motamayor, Jorge Gutiérrez recounted what happened after DreamWorks optioned "The Book of Life" in 2007. Gutiérrez would spend the next year working on the film (then titled "El Matador"), during which time "The Bee Movie" flopped and DreamWorks underwent some major restructuring. As Gutiérrez recalled, the studio was still keen on making his movie after that, but only with some changes:

"One, it can't take place in Mexico. No wooden dolls. No bullfighting. And the main character can't die. And in order for your movie to move forward, we want this to be set in present-day urban New York, in Washington Heights."

Manolo, as Gutiérrez alluded to in his interview with Rafael, allows himself to be killed in "The Book of Life" after Xibalba tricks him into thinking Maria is dead so that Xibalba might win his bet with his fellow deity, La Muerte, about which of the movie's male leads will end up with Maria. Far from the genre-blending Mexican fable Gutiérrez had in mind, DreamWorks envisioned the film as "a hip-hop salsa reggaeton musical" with a modern setting and songs by a certain up-and-comer. 

"I still remember they had to pick up a sheet because no one knew who he was," Gutiérrez explained. "We want to pair you up with Lin-Manuel Miranda."

Bear in mind, Miranda was fresh off creating his and Quiara Alegría Hudes' breakout hit "In the Heights" -- a stage musical about contemporary life in the primarily Dominican-American community of Washington Heights -- when all this was going on. The studio, it would seem, basically wanted to turn "The Book of Life" into an animated version of "In the Heights."

'It Would've Ruined Both Of Our Careers'

At the time, Jorge Gutiérrez had no idea who Lin-Manuel Miranda was. With "Hamilton" still years away and "In the Heights" only just about to make its premiere on Broadway, the award-winning multi-hyphenate was still a relative unknown. "So I quit on the spot," Gutiérrez said, laughing as he did. "And I basically said, 'And you tell Lin-Manuel Miranda, you tell her good luck with her movie.'" He would later share this story with Miranda, telling him, "If you would've done this, it would've ruined both of our careers."

Gutiérrez would go on to make "The Book of Life" for 20th Century Fox instead. The film garnered generally positive reviews and managed to double its $50 million budget at the box office. Meanwhile, Miranda took the musical theater world by storm with "Hamilton" before teaming up with Disney to write the songs for its animated musicals "Moana" and "Encanto." A movie version of "In the Heights" would also eventually be released in 2021, earning an enthusiastic critical response but courting controversy for casting lighter-skinned Latino actors in most of the lead roles and bombing at the box office.

Still, it's better that both of these works -- which are very different projects about largely unrelated aspects of Latin-American history and culture made by Latino artists -- were allowed to succeed and fail in their own ways, rather than being merged into something that it seems neither of their creators would've wanted to make.

Read this next: The 14 Best Animated Movies (That Aren't Made By Disney Or Pixar)

The post A Pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda Could Have Turned The Book of Life Into 'A Hip-Hop Salsa Reggaeton Musical' appeared first on /Film.

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