The Book of Life is an animated celebration of Mexico’s Day of the Dead holiday (observed in other Latin American cultures also). This holiday developed as a combination of a preexisting practice of the native culture and Catholic practices of the Spanish conquerors. The living set up ofrendas for their deceased loved ones—offerings of the things they enjoyed when they were alive. It’s a time for feasting and remembering.
In The Book of Life, a group of skeptical kids visits a museum. A docent takes them to the Mexico portion of the museum and tells them the story of kind-hearted Manolo and brave Joaquin, good friends who both love the same girl, María. Xibalba, the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, makes a wager with La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, betting on which young man Maria will marry. This results in one of them ending up in the Land of the Remembered. He follows a dangerous path to try to save María, whose town is under attack from the evil bandit Chakal.
The storyline is a bit frenetic and confusing, but the animation is vibrant and colorful. The museum guide tells the story through brightly colored wooden figures, so each character is animated as if it were carved from wood. It makes for a very different animation experience than the typical Disney or Pixar offering.
The story lends itself to both cultural education and discussion of the afterlife by comparing Christian views with this tall tale. The Land of the Remembered can be a good starting point for wondering what our resurrected life might look like; the Land of the Forgotten would be a way to talk about hell. Reformed Christianity does share the basic belief that there is life after this life; our hope does not end at the grave. But our eternal fate rests in God’s remembering us through Christ, rather than the fading memories of our descendants.
As you may have guessed, there is a Book of Life. It is a “character” in the movie that holds the stories of all the people who have ever lived, with obvious comparisons to the book of life mentioned in the Bible. Another character, a goofy hip-hop guy named the Candle Maker, oversees the living.
There are a lot of different pieces to this puzzle that could prompt good questions for families who see it. It’s also an amazing work of animation that will contribute to better cultural understanding of our neighbors. But children will need some help from their parents as they navigate this spiritual territory.