It’s almost that time of year again; when the dead can walk our streets. When homes are decorated with models of skulls, when children celebrate the special day by dressing up, and eating as many sweets as possible. That’s right, it’s almost October 31st, otherwise known as Día de Muertos; The Day of The Dead. This traditionally Mexican holiday, which has been accepted and integrated into many cultures takes a less scary perspective on Halloween, and in fact predates the holiday, despite focusing on the dead returning to our world. Rather, it observes the day as one on which we can remember those who have left us, celebrating the life that they lived. Proof that this holiday is becoming more and more popularised can be seen from the success of the 2014 film “The Book of Life”, a beautifully animated modern-fairy-tale of three heroic friends, and how they crossed the boundaries of life, and death.
We begin, as so many films do, in detention. This detention, however, is a museum trip, rather than confinement to a classroom. Tour guide Mary Beth introduces the children to the mysterious ‘Book of Life’, and proceeds to read from it, telling them the story of the Mexican town of San Angel, the centre of the universe. The spirits La Muerte, the beautiful ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, strike up a bet when watching two young boys compete for the love of their friend Maria. La Muerte bets that Manolo will marry her, whilst Xibalba places his hopes in Joaquin. Years pass, Maria is sent away to boarding school, and upon her return, she and Manolo declare their love for one another. Desperate to win the wager, Xibalba sends a snake to seemingly kill Maria. Manolo offers his life to Xibalba to save her, and he is bitten by both of the snake’s heads, killing him, whilst Maria wakes up. Now he must find a way back to his true love, with the help of the spirits deceased family, whilst those in the world of the living have to defend the town from dangerous bandits.
This quest takes Manolo throughout the underworld, from the Land of the Remembered to the Land of the Forgotten, and everywhere in between. His final quest is to defeat the spirits of all the bulls which his matador family has killed in the past - but rather than delivering a final blow, Manolo sings his apology, the terrifying creature peacefully dissolving away. Impressing the spirits, our hero is permitted to return to the land of the living, to help defend his home. Manolo and Maria happily wed, as Joaquin acts as best man to both of his best friends. Back to the present, as the children leave the exhibit, Mary Beth changes shape, and the audience see that La Muerte was, in fact, telling the story herself.
The 26 nominations for awards, combined with the exceedingly positive critical reception demonstrate how many have fallen in love with “The Book of Life”. A wonderfully animated, well written rainbow of a Mexican folk tale, whether you celebrate Dia de Muertos or Halloween, it certainly a film of the season worth watching.