The Book of Life (PG)
20th Century Studios; Great but Forgotten; IMDb; Reel FX; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikia; Wikipedia
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Caution: potential spoilers.
I watched this in 2015, on the Day of the Dead (which is when the movie starts). A group of kids take a field trip to a museum. Actually, a few buses came to the museum, but we focus on the unruly kids from one particular bus, who are taken aside by a tour guide who wants to show them something special. She's soon stopped by like a guard or something, but ignores his warning, and shows the kids a display about Mexico, and tells them a story... Most of the film will be that story, though there are occasional cuts back to the kids and the tour guide. It's kind of interesting that the animation in the story is a bit different from the animation framing the story. I mean, the characters within the story kind of look like toys. Kind of.
Anyway, the story is set in the Mexican town of San Angel. There are these three children named Maria Posada, Manolo Sanchez, and Joaquin Mondragon, who are best friends. Manolo and Joaquin are both in love with Maria, though I think it would be safe to call it "puppy love." And while the two boys feel a sense of competition, it doesn't come between their friendship for each other. Meanwhile, they are observed by La Muerte and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), the rulers of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively. (They're both versions of the afterlife, in which the souls of the departed reside in one land or the other based on whether they are remembered in the land of the living. Incidentally, Xibalba reminded me of Discord from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, though his name reminded me of Sebulba from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace.) Xibalba wants to trade lands with La Muerte (who is his wife, btw), since he really doesn't like the Land of the Forgotten. So he makes a bet with her: if Maria marries Joaquin, they'll trade lands, but if Maria marries Manolo, he'll stop interfering in the lives of mortals. (This bet seems wrong on so many levels, but... you know how deities are.) He immediately cheats by giving Joaquin a medal that will make him invincible (but I didn't really think it was that bad, because La Muerte gave Manolo a blessing of her own). But um... stuff happens, and Maria's father sends her off to Spain to be raised by nuns, or whatever.
Years pass, and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) grows up to be the greatest hero of San Angel and spends most of his time traveling to other villages, fighting banditos and whatnot. Meanwhile, Manolo (Diego Luna) wants to be a musician, but he's a Sanchez... and everyone in his family have always been bullfighters. He's actually pretty great at that, but he doesn't want to kill any bulls, so he's a disappointment to his family. Anyway, finally Maria (Zoe Saldana) returns to San Angel, and immediately Manolo and Joaquin revive their rivalry for her affections. It seems fairly clear that viewers are meant to root for Manolo, the one who is supposedly "pure of heart." But honestly... they're both basically good guys, and they're both flawed, with kind of sexist attitudes (though Joaquin seems more sexist). Maria definitely seems to be a feminist. She's clearly self-confident and strong and smart, and isn't going to just automatically fall for either guy. Though she does love them both as friends, and I suppose having spent all those years raised by nuns, she probably hasn't had a chance to meet anyone else. And each of them has their own advantages. Like, she appreciates the fact that Manolo didn't kill the bull he was fighting. And Joaquin protects San Angel from a gang of bandits led by a guy named Chakal (who previously owned the medal Xibalba gave to Joaquin, years ago).
Eventually, it seems that Manolo is going to win Maria's heart, so Xibalba sends a snake to bite him. But Maria pushes him out of the way, and gets bitten herself, and apparently dies. Manolo wants to be with her, so he makes a deal with Xibalba, who has his snake bite him. Then Manolo appears in the Land of the Remembered (now in skeletal form), and is reunited with the many Sanchezes who have died before him (including his mother). Incidentally, it's kind of strange that we never see Joaquin's father, who was also dead. But whatever. Um... so... Manolo learns that Xibalba had cheated by sending the snake, so now he's in control of the Land of the Remembered. And now Manolo needs to travel to the Land of the Forgotten, to get help from La Muerta. He is assisted by his whole clan, but he has to pass a test to determine if he's worthy. Then he gets some help from a deity called the Candle Maker (Ice Cube), who provides balance between the lands of the Remembered, the Forgotten, and the Living. I guess. Meanwhile, Chakal learns that Joaquin has his medal, and takes his gang to attack San Angel, and get it back.
And... you know... a bunch of other stuff happens, and I don't want to say how it all turns out. But it's just a really funny movie, and I like all the various themes or lessons or whatever, and all the heartwarming bits, and all the crazy bits, and... everything. Well, almost everything. And I guess I can't think what else to tell you. Oh, except the DVD has a bonus short called "The Adventures of Chuy," which is about a pig Maria had rescued early in the film, when she was a girl. It was a pretty cute little story, but I really don't know what to say about that.