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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Book of Life

The Book of Life is a pleasant if unexceptional animated film for children that sneaks in jokes for adults, as most of them do these days. What sets it apart is that is a film that celebrates Mexican culture, an indication of the shifting demographics in the United States, as this is not a tiny indie, but a film distributed by Fox.

The story is framed by a bunch of nasty kids visiting a museum. A tour guide (Christina Applegate) takes them into a secret hall, where she tells them a story from the Book of Life, which has everyone's story in it. This one is about the rules of the realm of the Land of the Remembered, and the Land of the Forgotten. Oh, and it's the Day of the Dead, a day that is very prominent on the Mexican calendar (as with most Spanish-settled nations).

La Muerte, the Queen of the Land of the Remembered, is like the Good Witch of the North. Everyone is dead, but it is a colorful and festive place. Those who are remembered by someone alive stay there. If you are forgotten to everyone on Earth, you go to The Land of the Forgotten, ruled over by Xibalba, a kind of vulture-ish creature. It's a desolate and miserable place. He wants to trade places with La Muerta, so they make a bet.

It concerns two boys and a girl. One boy, Manolo, wants to be a musician, but his legacy is to be a bullfighter. Joaquin wants to be a hero, as his father died at the hands of a vicious bandit. They grow up, voiced by Diego Luna and Channing Tatum, respectively. Maria, the girl (Zoe Saldana). returns from a European education and the two men now vie for her attention. The bet is which one will marry Maria.

The film is very eye-catching and almost too busy with color and movement. The story is rather trite, even if it does follow Manolo into the two realms, where he has to fight a thousand bulls to save his family's souls (and he does not believe in killing the bull). There's talk of selflessness and what courage really means, which is nice but nothing that will live with someone for very long.

Again, I found it's appeal to those of Mexican heritage very interesting in a tipping point kind of way. Guillermo Del Toro produced, and there are many Mexican and Mexican-American voice actors (Cheech Marin, Hector Elizondo, and Danny Trejo, just to name three). I rented this to show my students, who are predominantly Mexican, so if they haven't seen it before I hope they enjoy it. If they were twenty years older, they'd have grown up seeing mostly white people on their screens (unless they watch Spanish-language television), so it's nice to see they have a chance to see their own on the big screen.

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