The Book of Life

Movie review by
Yvonne Condes, Common Sense Media
The Book of Life Movie Poster Image
Beautifully animated film has some scary imagery.
  • PG
  • 2014
  • 95 minutes
 Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 7+
Based on 21 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 17 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

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 & Representations

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 and integrity end 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.

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.

User Reviews

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 fil... Continue reading
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,... Continue reading
Kid, 7 years old October 27, 2014
The movie is pretty good but when I watched it, I got scared. I knew that the movie had a wrong rating: (i) too much violence, and (ii) too much kissing.
Kid, 12 years old November 1, 2014

Really good!

This was a great movie. But parents: it is pretty scary at times, and it's also really, really sad in a few parts. I also like how they had strong female l... Continue reading

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?

  • How do the characters in The Book of Life demonstrate integrity? Why is this an important character strength?

  • 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

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