Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Book of Life

It's not Disney, Pixar, or DreamWorks. But the book of life is quite possibly the best animated film of the year. Now it may not have the same level of pulling on your heartstrings like Pixar does so well, but the originality of the story, humor, music, and visuals, are on par with anything the big animation studios can offer. Originality being the most important. What is it with Mexican's and death? The Book of Life is inspired by the Mexican holiday, the Day of the Dead, which starts at midnight on October 31st and goes through November 1st and 2nd. The film does not follow the holiday exactly of course. But that inspiration makes for a stunning looking story. And this story is about a timeless tale, two friends and a girl. Some SPOILERS to follow.

Juaquin, Maria, Manolo

Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), Juaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum), and Maria (voices by Zoe Saldana) grew up together. The three friends are inseparable. Of course Monolo and Juaquin both have more romantic feelings for Maria. They "fight" for her affection in as much as two boys who are best friends would. Despite the fact that they are rivals for Maria, Manolo and Juaquin remain good friends and have the highest respect for eachother. And it should be noted that Maria is not interested in being fought for. She is a tomboy. And she is as brave (and crazy) as the boys who want her affection. They grow up and follow what their fathers, and families, expect of them. Juaquin becomes a soldier and the towns hero, trying to live up to the reputation of his legendary (and deceased) father. Manolo comes froma family of bullfighters. The Sanchez name carries a heavy burden especially if what you really want to do is play music. Maria is expected to be a good housewife and upstanding young women by her father. Into this mix comes the rulers of the lands of the dead, Xibalba and La Muerte.

Xibalba, La Muerte

Xibalba rules the Land of the Forgotten. A desolate places where souls go when no one remembers them. El Muerte rules the Land of the Rememberd, a vibrant realm where the dead live in perpetual holiday. They are basically a married couple. They argue, but they love each other. Xibalba is tires of his kingdom of sorrow and ash. So he makes a bet with La Muerte. If Juaquin marries Maria, he gets to rules the Land of the Remembered. Of course Xibalba bets on the wrong man. Long story short, he tricks Monolo into death. Monolo then has to become who he really is on the inside to return to the land of the living and win Maria's heart. And everyone stays friends in the end.

Sounds a bit cheesy when I describe it like that, but remember that these characters were best friends since childhood. But this just reinforces that these characters are equals, each living in the shadows of their families, each struggling to step out of those shadows, and each loves and respects each other. It's important to note that Maria, Monolo's mother, and the other supporting female characters are never seen as weak or subservient. Culture and tradition demands they follow the men, but that does not keep these women from being very independent and unique. Which brings me to the twins.

Adelita and Nina are two of Monolo's Sanchez family ancestors. They fought in the revolution... and won. They are a nod to the women soldiers (called Adelitas) who fought alongside the men in The Mexican Revolution. It's another nice detail in the film. But of all the supporting cast (and this is just a personal opinion here) there is a seriously awesome story there that just begs for it's own film.

But back to this film. The designs are spectacular, especially with the characters. I'm hoping for some great cosplay to come out of this. But other details bring it to another level. The music for instance. Some popular songs from various genres make there way into the film. Most will recognize Just A Friend by Biz Markie in the previews. But the film does not stop there. There is a great version of Creep by Radiohead that also shows up. You'll know where when you hear it. There are a lot of details that make The Book Of Life an amazing and original film. You should look up the rest of the voice cast. It's pretty awesome too. I have to concede that due to my own heritage it probably struck more chords than another story might. But that's why we need more diversity in all films. I lived my life as an American and never had all that much to do with my Mexican heritage. But seeing something that spoke to and had a lot of love and respect for my background felt good.

You don't have to be of Mexican or any other Latin decent to love this movie. It's is good on it's own merits. It's something different that a lot of people have no visual reference for. It makes you wonder how many more stories can be made with this level of love and respect for a culture. Not that Hollywood does not respect cultures. But this is proof that you don't have to water things down to make something beautiful.

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