‘Book of Life’ Score Represents a Series of Firsts for Composer Gustavo Santaolalla

Composer Gustavo Santaolalla
Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images

The score for “The Book of Life” represents several precedents for two-time Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla: It’s his first animated feature; the first time he worked with a large orchestra (90 pieces); and the first time he used a choir.

Known for his guitar-driven music on “Motorcycle Diaries” and “Brokeback Mountain,” Santaolalla arranged a veritable gumbo (or more like a posole) for the triangular romance set against a Mexican Day of the Dead backdrop: symphonic, ethnic, folkloric, rock and pop.

“I’m attracted to things that take me out of my comfort zone,” says Santaolalla, who recorded at London’s Air Studios with Tim Davies conducting. “In previous films, the music was much more discrete and subtle, less manipulative. This genre demands that I be more upfront, but the aesthetics are different.”

Serving up those aesthetics include ethnic instrumentation like the marimba and the accordion, and horns that are more mariachi-like than classical.

One of the film’s highlights is a serenade titled “I Love You Too Much,” co-written with Paul Williams and sung by actor Diego Luna, who plays would-be suitor Manolo.

“Diego got some coaching and was a great about doing multiple takes,” Santaolalla says. “He got the expression, but from that to singing is a big leap.”

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