Death is part of an endless circle deemed as the scariest part of life. However, death isn’t as horrible as it seems if we were to view it in a positive light. In Mexico, family and friends of the deceased member would gather around the cemeteries to celebrate the Day of the Dead as the spirits will return to receive gifts and spend a brief moment with the living.
It’s hard to imagine the way they celebrate it but director Jorge R. Gutierrez gave us a glimpse into the fantastical world of dead through his latest animated film, “The Book of Life“.
Set in the present day, the film begins with a group of problematic schoolchildren arriving at a museum for a field trip. As expected, these kids are not interested in the trip at all but instead, the secret entrance into the museum piqued their interests, especially under the lead of the beautiful, smart, and sassy tour guide Mary Beth (voiced by Christina Applegate). Entering the secret museum may seem like an exciting field trip for the kids but the greatest story begins the moment Beth opens the “Book of Life”.
Through Beth’s storytelling, the wooden figurines of the characters in the book come alive and we are introduced to the gods of the dead, La Muerta (voiced by Kate del Castilo) and Xibalba (voiced by Ron Pearlman). La Muerta is the beautiful queen of the Land of the Remembered, who has a love-hate relationship with her lover Xibalba, the miserable lord of the Land of the Forgotten. Sick and tired of his cold, miserable life in the Land of the Forgotten, Xibalba begged La Muerta to swap her throne so that he can rule the happier, livelier Land of the Remembered.
As a result, the 2 meddle with the Land of the Living as they place their bets on 2 boys, Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) and Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) to predict which one of them can win the heart of another childhood friend of theirs, Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). La Muerta places her bet on Manolo, the music-obsessed son of the well-known bullfighter Carlos Sanchez (voiced by Hector Elizondo) while Xibalba places his bet on Joaquin, a tough soldier’s son.
However, the young Maria is forced to separate from the boys after causing a chaos in the town of San Angel. Just as she’s about to leave Mexico aka “the centre of the universe”, it became obvious that Manolo will win Maria’s heart but Xibalba is convinced that the little trick he put on Joaquin earlier might just help him win the bet instead. What’s the trick he put on Joaquin, you ask? All we can say is that it has to do with the ways in which he becomes the new hero for protecting the town without being harmed by the enemies.
While Maria is away, Manolo stays true to his passion for music and continues to play the guitar given by Maria. However, he was forced to live up to his father’s expectation as his father thinks that he has the potential to become the best bullfighter in the Sanchez family. Although he failed to put up a great bullfighting show for the town, his act of kindness once again soften Maria’s heart, which forces Xibalba to put on a deadly trick on Manolo.
And so Manolo’s fantastical journey into the Land of the Remembered begins. Since it’s the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, the Land of Remembered became overflowed with vibrant colours and joyful vibes that almost made us want to step into the magical underworld too. Manolo even “reunites” with his late mother and other dead ancestors in the Land of Remembered before he discovers that he was tricked into underworld by Xibalba.
Together with his mother and his grandfather, Manolo set to venture into Land of Forgotten and search for La Muerta so that he can return to the human world. But before he can even make it to the human world, the town is threatened by the most wanted, notorious criminal Chakal and his band of thieves. Will Manolo make it out of the underworld to save Maria and the town? After his power is stripped off by Chakal, will Joaquin sacrifice himself to save the town?
More importantly, between a hero and a musician, who will Maria pick? That’s for you to find out in the film!
From the hilarious dialogues to the unique animated style to the pop-music references, “The Book of Life” is arguably the best animated film we’ve seen in 2014. The portrayal of the Land of the Remembered is so surreal yet breathtakingly beautiful and the song choices are surprisingly fitting for some of the scenes in the film. There are just so many funny characters that even Manolo’s grandmother (which bears a striking resemblance to Madame Foster in “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends”) as well as Maria’s pet pig can make the audience burst out laughing!
While the film focuses on the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, there are some important life lessons and advices that director Jorge R. Gutierrez has put into the film as well. It encourages people to overcome their greatest fears and to never give up on their dreams so that there are no regrets later in their lives. More importantly, the film helps the audience to understand the losing the loved ones can be painful but as long as you remember them and pray for them, they’re still with you because they live inside your heart.
Just like Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”, the characters of the film will certainly become some of our favourite animated characters of all time. Whenever we think of Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, we think of the magical underworld in “The Book of Life”.
Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro, “The Book of Life” hits Malaysian cinemas on October 16, 2014.