Jorge Gutierrez watched the 2013 Grammys with his heart in his throat. He really, really wanted Mumford & Sons to lose.

The band’s song “I Will Wait” was up for best rock performance, and Gutierrez was worried that, if it won, the band would pull permission for him to use it in “The Book of Life,” his animated film about Manolo (Diego Luna), a young man who was born into a family of bullfighters but dreams of being a musician. The film’s composer, Gustavo Santaolalla, had already done a ranchero version of the song that was integral to one of the film’s early moments. Mumford & Sons didn’t take home the trophy, much to Gutierrez’s relief, and the track stayed in the picture — along with nearly a dozen other pop songs.

Those songs — which include “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and are all played in mariachi and other Latin styles — actually fit in nicely with the world of the film.

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“When you go serenade someone in Mexico, it’s not like you write a song for them,” Gutierrez says. “You use an existing song. I wanted our characters to be able to grab songs from all over the world. The Elvis song, my grandparents loved. The Rod Stewart song, my dad loved. These are all songs that are important to me because they’re important to my family.”

Family is an overarching theme in the film, which follows Manolo as he dies, travels to the Land of the Remembered (where ancestors party eternally) and back again to win the heart of Maria (Zoe Saldana). The movie, Gutierrez’s first feature, takes place on the Mexican holiday Day of the Dead, which inspired both the look of the film and its theme.

“The aesthetic of the Day of the Dead is beautiful,” he says. “But in my mind, the message is even more beautiful. As long as we talk about those who have come before us, we tell their stories, we sing their songs, we cook their favorite dishes, they’re here. The moment we don’t say their names, the moment we don’t talk about them, they’re really gone.”

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