The Book of Life Movie Poster Image

The Book of Life

(i)

 

Beautifully animated film has some scary imagery.
Common Sense SealParents recommendPopular with kids
  • Review Date: October 17, 2014
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2014
  • Running Time: 95 minutes

What parents need to know

Educational value

Kids will learn the cultural traditions of the Day of the Dead and what it was like to live in an old Mexican town without technology.

Positive messages

There's an ongoing message that doing what's right is more important than other people's expectations of you. When Manolo goes to the underworld, he learns that he's part of a bigger world. On the Day of the Dead, family members that have died are honored and remembered in a big celebration.

Positive role models

Manolo is pressured to be as great a bullfighter as his father and other ancestors were, but he defies them by not killing the bull in the ring because it’s wrong. His kindness ends up saving him in the end. Maria is strong and self-sufficient; at first, she won't be pressured into marrying Joaquin just because her father wants her to and everyone in town admires him. Joaquin is egotistical and keeps a great secret about how he came to be the town's invincible hero. Xibalba is a classic villain who will stop at nothing to trade places with La Muerte.

Violence & scariness

Potentially scary imagery/pervasive death references (skeletons, beheaded figures, etc.) throughout the movie. Manolo fights real-life bulls, and, near the end, he also fights a scary demon bull the size of a building. Xiabalba, the king of the underworld, is scary and makes loud frightening movements that could scare some children. Manolo dies and becomes a skeleton figure and reunites with his dead ancestors, including his mother. His grandfather has his head chopped off, and Manolo's mother carries it around. Maria and Manolo are bitten by a snake that transforms from a cane. There's a battle scene at the end with punching and sword fighting. Joaquin, the town hero, fights throughout the movie. Manolo and Joaquin get in a slap fight over Maria. Throughout the movie, there are little scares where characters jump out or react loudly. At the beginning of the movie, children visiting a museum are taken through a magical door to a secret room.

Sexy stuff

Manolo and Joaquin are both in love with Maria. They try to kiss her several times, and Manolo eventually does. Manolo's mariachi friends sing "If You Think I'm Sexy" and "Just a Friend" to help Manolo court Maria.

Language

Words like "kick his butt" and insults like "lazy bum." Some kids are called "detention kids."

Consumerism

There's no consumerism in the film, which is set in the past, but there are tie-in marketing deals for clothing, jewelry, toys, etc.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

There's drinking, but it's not clear what's being consumed.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that The Book of Life is a refreshingly original animated film that takes viewers to the underworld and back. Smaller children might find the scenes in the Land of the Remembered scary, especially those featuring the king of the underworld, Xibalba (who's named after the Mayan name for the realm of the dead). The characters in the Land of the Remembered are traditional Day of the Dead figures, which are skeletons in brightly colored clothing. One dead character's head is separate from his body. There are some bullfighting scenes and battle sequences that are a little violent, and things get somewhat darker when the action shifts to the underworld (there's a demonic bull surrounded by fire). Expect a little bit of kissing and a few insults ("kick his butt," "lazy bum"), too. But the fun definitely outweighs the scary/iffy parts, and ultimately this is a vibrant, colorful movie about doing the right thing and the importance of family -- messages that can be appreciated by both kids and parents. It's also an invitation to explore and learn more about Mexican culture, from the details of the Day of the Dead celebrations to legendary creatures like Chupacabras.

What's the story?

Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) have loved Maria (Zoe Saldana) all their lives. What they don’t know is that the kind La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and the evil Xibalba (Ron Perlman) -- the rulers of the underworld -- made a bet over which boy Maria would marry. She's sent away to school and comes back more confident and more beautiful. Meanwhile, Manolo grows up into a sensitive guitar player whose family wants him to be a ruthless bullfighter, while Joaquin becomes the town hero -- with a big secret and huge ego. Xibalba will go to any lengths to win the bet, so he sets his snake on Manolo. So Manolo must travel through the underworld on the Day of the Dead, the biggest party of the year, to return to his true love.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

THE BOOK OF LIFE is a beautifully animated film about Dia de los Muertos that combines essential Mexican folklore, ancient mythology, and pop culture. Luna is charming as Manolo, the guitar playing bullfighter who's too kind to kill the bull. Tatum has just the right amount of bravado to play Joaquin, who shouts his own name as he rushes into battle, and Saldana is sassy and adorable as the smart, independent Maria. 

Most impressive is the visually stunning underworld that director Jorge Gutierrez has created. The movie immerses viewers into the environment, traditions, colors, and sounds of Day of the Dead celebration; La Muerte is the most gorgeous animated queen since Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty, and Xibalba is perfect as her scary king. The characters and the music (excellent reworkings of classic and alternative pop songs) are absorbing and memorable, and you'll be thinking about the world full of color and fun that Gutierrez has created long after you've seen the movie. 

We're pleased to award The Book of Life with the Common Sense Seal, marking it as a top pick for kids and families.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the pressure to live up to expectations. Can you relate to Manolo and Joaquin's feeling that they can't fill the shoes of the family that came before them? What's the best way to handle that type of situation?

  • How scary is The Book of Life? Is it ever fun to be scared? Why or why not?

  • Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin all ultimately realize that they must follow their own paths. Kids: Is it ever OK to defy your parents' wishes?

  • Are you familiar with Day of the Dead? Does your culture celebrate loved ones after they've died? How could you learn more about this holiday? What other Latino traditions and values does the movie include?

  • Especially considering the movie's time setting (likely the early 1900s), Maria is a very progressive young woman, with a strong, determined personality. How does that make her a role model? How are her goals and dreams out of the ordinary for the world she's part of?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 17, 2014
DVD release date:January 27, 2015
Cast:Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Director:Jorge R. Gutierrez
Studio:Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Fairy tales, Great boy role models, Great girl role models
Character strengths:Integrity
Run time:95 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
Awards/Honors:Common Sense Seal

This review of The Book of Life was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

Great handpicked alternatives

What parents and kids say

See all user reviews

Share your thoughts with other parents and kids Write a user review

A safe community is important to us. Please observe our guidelines

Adult Written bymagoo January 20, 2015

From a feminist (for boys AND girls) perspective, it falls short--as most do

Other things to talk about: 1) What does 'sexy' mean, and just because 'If you Think I'm Sexy' is one of the featured songs in the film, is it something kids should sing? [Because my 4 and 7 year olds now love that song from the movie, and I'm certainly no prude nor do I expect my kids to be, and they know about how babies are made and all that, but, c'mon... why the hell is this song in a kids' movie and on the soundtrack? Because they SING IT NOW, everywhere they go. Thanks a lot, Book of Life.] 2. Why is Maria like almost all girl characters in movies--progressive or not--drawn with a crapload of makeup and big fancy hair and preternaturally skinny? Can girls just be drawn like girls, with normal size eyes, normal eyelashes that are like boys' (which is to say, no eyelashes), and maybe weigh more than a few ounces? Why are girls and women drawn like Kardashians? Are these the only kinds of girls worth noticing, putting in movies, and allowing to have some voice in a plot? Is lipstick feminism the only kind of feminism worth seeing? I find it incredibly irritating to be constantly pointing this out to girls and boys. It's almost as if producers can't even IMAGINE drawing a female character normal and regular and 'not cartoon sexy' and yet still interesting simply because she is in the movie and driving the plot.
Adult Written bynduns October 20, 2014

I had high expectations and was still pleasantly surprised

This is an amazing film. Not only are the animations incredible, getting that wooden puppet look off perfectly, but while the story and characters are cliches, everything is executed so well that it ends up being incredible. Maria is a great female lead and I like how the romance is implied to have built up over the years. I also like how Juaquim isn't a complete jerk. I feel if they had gone that route with him, it would have felt like they were forcing the obvious romance to happen, which thankfully they did not do. Heck, all of the characters have at least a bit of depth to them, even those you wouldn't expect to have it. The songs are very good too, though the way they were spread out could have been better. All-in-all, I strongly recommend this one.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written byB-KMastah November 5, 2014

Visually interesting, but plot and character-wise, not so much.

For a movie that wants to and should be a rare cultural movie in a sea of white American everything, it's pretty disappointing that The Book of Life is basically an educational video on Mexican culture stretched out to 95 minutes. 95 minutes is short, but this doesn't feel like it--it actually feels like it's over two hours. The film's sometimes-interesting animation is undermined by both the story and story structure, which aren't well done. The narrative is really a story told by a tour guide to a bunch of detention kids at a museum and it's a pretty useless setup. Characters aren't really fleshed out, which contributes to the film's poor job of engrossing the audience. In addition to the story, the overall pace of the movie is oddly contradictory: it's not interesting and feels too long despite constantly badgering the viewer with gag after gag after gag. So much is happening that it's as if the director couldn't bring himself to only focus on one joke and make it work. Every scene has tons of stuff happening yet its jokes fall flat because the filmmakers are throwing tons of stuff at the wall and hoping that stuff sticks. It's like a little kid shoving their toys in someone's face and going "See! See? See?!" and manages to be both a borderline assault on the senses and numbing experience. I have absolutely no problem with quick humor; in fact, it's my favorite. I absolute praise Edgar Wright's frantic-yet-extremely-effective work (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, The World's End, etc.) as well as the zany and mile-a-minute humor of The Lego Movie, but The Book of Life demonstrates that characters, dialogue, and jokes have to be focused on. The beats feel off despite some brief dazzling animation sequences. I enjoyed looking at the film, but it still gets boring around the 45-minute mark. I instead sat there, wishing many times that I was seeing The Lego Movie or The Boxtrolls again. I can only see this working on very small children thanks to its barrage of colors and sounds, but if someone really wants to teach their children about Mexican culture, they should just show them a 25-minute documentary. It's not like this made me mad or something, or anything like that, so I can't in good conscience call this a bad movie, but it's pretty lame. And it's a shame, because while I applaud them for making a film about different cultures, it's disappointing that the one we get is nothing special. 5.1/10, lame, two thumbs down, below average, etc.
What other families should know
Great messages

Poll

Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Family Media Agreement