Death may not be delightful. It also isn’t something most of us discuss with the very young children that are the audience for this animated film. But if anyone can start the conversation, it’s the whimsically spooky Guillermo del Toro, producer and director of The Book of Life. He was able to create a frosted cake of a film about the core belief behind Mexico’s Day of the Dead – that our loved ones remain alive, in a way, as long as we remember them. Granted, death isn’t an end to things in this movie’s version. In the film, the afterlife is either a gloomy place called the Land of the Forgotten, ruled by the smooth operator Xibalba (voiced Ron Perlman), or a colorful phantasmagoria called the Land of the Remembered, presided over by the beautiful La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), Xibalba’s angry ex-lover. Wishing to switch places with La Muerte, Xibalba talks her into a bet over which of two boys – Manolo (Diego Luna) or Joaquin (Channing Tatum) – will win the love of the feisty and feministic Maria (Zoe Saldana). But, Xibalba can’t resist stacking the deck by giving Joaquin, his bet, the Medal of Everlasting Life, which prevents Joaquin from being injured or killed. The boy that La Muerte put her bet on, Manolo, is a musician at heart, who is forced by his father to become the latest in his family’s line of bullfighters. He’s a natural at it, except Manolo will not kill the bull. He’s readily willing to give up his own life, however, to spare Maria’s – and after doing just that, lands himself in the Land of the Remembered. However, he soon discovers that Xibalba has tricked him. Now he must find a way back. With character designs evoking images of traditional Day of the Dead puppets, The Book of Life is its own vision. Its humor and visual appeal display death as a part of life – and, for a younger audience, do so in a gentle and delightful way. Overall, this film is amazing to watch with the family, and also educational for those who are interested in learning a little bit about Mexico’s Day of the Dead. This film makes death seem like a fun-world, and will definitely leave the audience open mouthed in awe!
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