The Book of Life takes us on a fanciful ride through Mexican culture under the backdrop of El Dia De Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). I wasn’t sure what to think of the film when I first saw the previews. It looked gorgeous, there is no denying that, but Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, and Christina Applegate in a movie about Mexican culture, can that work? Actually, yeah, it kind of does in an odd sort of way.
The story follows a life long love between two boys–Joaquin (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street) and Manolo (Diego Luna, Elysium)–and one girl–Maria (Zoe Saldana, Guardians of the Galaxy). Unbeknownst to them, their love triangle has huge implications for the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten. The Land of the Remembered is where your loved ones who have passed away but live on in your memory reside. It is a land of vibrance, joy, and celebration run by La Muerta (Christina Applegate, Anchorman). The Land of the Forgotten on the other hand is a dark dismal place ruled by La Muerta’s husband Xibalba (Ron Perlman, Hellboy) where you go when no one alive remembers who you are. Xibalba is bored in the Land of the Forgotten. He wants to live in the Land of the Remembered, but La Muerta will not depart with her beloved land. Through a bet that boils down to, “Who will get the girl, Manolo or Joaquin?” the groundwork is set for Xibalba to win The Land of the Remembered. If only Joaquin could win Maria’s heart.
The entire movie is told in a narrative form similar to The Princess Bride. Throughout the movie we cut back and forth to a group of kids being told this amazing tale by Mary Beth, an overzealous museum tour guide. This allows the movie to deal well with some of the narrative twists in entertaining and silly ways.
“What’s with the Mexicans and death!?” a child exclaims, interrupting the story.
It is a good question and one not breached by kids movies. But rather than a tragedy to be avoided, death and the afterlife are discussed in a way that felt like more of a semicolon than a period. Many people feel death is the end. However, within The Book of Life it is merely a next step and opportunity to be re-united with your loved ones. It is nice to see death dealt with in such a clever way in a kids movie. This can easily lead into talks about heaven and the afterlife with children old enough to understand. I do not believe death is the end, and though I don’t subscribe to this film’s viewpoint, it gives me pause and helps me realize a truth that I as a Christian can embrace. That heaven is my final home; my life on earth is merely one of the steps to get there.
The movie was beautiful and true to the Mexican culture it borrows so heavily from. Though at times hearing Channing Tatum and Ice Cube–yes, I said Ice Cube–speak through their animated counterparts was a bit distracting, overall the voice acting was great. The dialogue was quick, the characters were entertaining, and the soundtrack was a surprise. Borrowing from modern folk and pop songs, The Book of Life remakes tracks like “I Will Wait,” “Creep” and “Can’t Help But Loving You” with a fantastic mariachi flare. But rather than sounding out of place, each song, several sung by Diego Luna, pushed the story forward and added quite a bit of charm.
The Book of Life was a fantastical view of Mexican culture. It gracefully deals with topics of death, love, loss, and joy, topics not often breached in children’s movies with such ease and grace. This could be a good way to talk to your kids about these difficult subjects. Voice acted well and animated beautifully, this film was a pleasure to watch.