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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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What's the story?
In THE BOOK OF LIFE, 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?
This 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 Book of Life 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.
Talk to your kids 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 in The Book of Life? What's the best way to handle that type of situation? Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin all ultimately realize that they must follow their own paths. Kids: Is it ever OK to defy your parents' wishes?
How scary is The Book of Life? Is it ever fun to be scared? Why or why not?
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?
- In theaters: October 17, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: 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
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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