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Western Animation: The Book Of Life

The Book of Life is a 2014 computer-animated film directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez of El Tigre fame, written by Doug Langdale of The Weekenders and Dave the Barbarian fame, and produced by Guillermo del Toro, with animation by Reel FX Animation Studios. It is a Orpheus and Eurydice-style love story set during the Day of the Dead in a fantasy version of 1920. The film was released on October 17th, just in time for Halloween.

The film is described as the journey of Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds, where he must face his greatest fears.

The film also features the voices of Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, and Ron Perlman.

Previews: first trailer. second trailer.

Tropes appearing in this film:

  • The Ace:
    • Manolo Sanchez. When it comes to bullfighting, Carlos states that Manolo is destined to become the "greatest Sanchez bullfighter ever". Manolo also has a talent for thinking up song lyrics on the spot.
    • Maria Posada is easily the best fighter of the series, and is able to give an epic encouraging speech to all of San Angel to fight Chakal and his bandits.
    • Joaquin Mondragon, or so it seems, but he is actually using The Medal of Everlasting life, making it impossible to kill or even hurt him. Though by the end Joaquin decides to earn his reputation honestly.
  • Action Girl:
    • Maria Posada. When Manolo and Joaquin start a swordfight over her, she picks up a sword and disarms them both in a single move. And that's before the bandits show up. During her travels, Maria has learned fencing and kung-fu.
    • The Adelita Twins. Both of them due to having fought in the revolution as soldaderas.
  • Affectionate Nickname:
    • La Muerte is called "mi amor", which is Spanish for "my love", by her husband.
    • Xibalba is nicknamed "Balby" by his wife.
  • All-Loving Hero:
    • Manolo. All he wants to do is sing from his heart and be with his loved ones. He has the true bullfighter talent, but can't bring himself to deliver the finishing blow.
    • Heavily implied with La Muerte. She believes that the heart of man is essentially pure. Plus, all creatures love her and she has a deep fondness towards children.
  • All There in the Manual:
    • Chato’s name isn't stated at all in the actual movie, rather, its by the credits and novelization.
    • The Detention Kids’ names and ethnicity.
    • The fact that Xibalba and La Muerte are married is stated on the website and in other supplemental materials, but nowhere in the film itself.
    • The security guard that Xibalba disguises as is, his name is Guicho.
  • Almost Kiss: After Manolo serenades Maria, they both start to lean in for a kiss before she decides it would be more fun to tease him instead.
  • Altar the Speed: General Posada coerces Maria and Joaquin into getting married less than a day after the latter's proposal so he'll stay in San Angel to defend it from Chakal.
  • Amazing Technicolor World: The Land of the Remembered.
  • Anachronism Stew: The film features versions of "Creep". "I Will Wait" "Just a Friend" and "Can't Help Falling in Love". All of which were most certainly written after the 20s.
  • Animated Musical: The film is a Jukebox Musical example.
  • An Aesop: Several lessons are learned by characters in this film.
    • Manolo: follow your heart.
    • Maria: Live life by your own rules.
    • Joaquin: You do not have to be exactly what someone else expects of you to be great.
    • Xibalba: Cheaters never prosper.
    • Carlos and General Posada: Let your children follow their dreams even if they differ from yours.
    • La Muerte: Anyone can die. It takes courage to live.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Always play from your heart."
    • "No retreat, no surrender!"
  • Arranged Marriage: Although there's no official agreement, General Posada is clearly planning to have Maria marry Joaquin. Joaquin genuinely did want to marry Maria, but not if she had to be forced; and they end up not marrying after all.
  • Art Shift:
    • The prologue and all flashbacks are animated traditionally in a style resembling El Tigre.
    • The designs in the Framing Device and the story proper are also distinctly different, with the characters in the latter resembling puppets or dolls with jointed limbs and wooden textures.
  • Award Bait Song: "I Love You Too Much" and "The Apology Song".
  • Awesome McCoolname:
    • Manolo Sanchez. His first name means "God is with us".
    • Joaquin Mondragon. "Joaquin" is the abbreviation of the Hebrew name "Jehoichin" meaning 'Jehovah has established'. And of course Mondragon.
  • Bandito: A group of them serve as secondary antagonists.
  • Badass:
    • Maria Posada is a master swords-woman and a practitioner of kung-fu.
    • La Muerte won't hesitate to slap or verbally chew out her husband when he deserves it. And, as Mary Beth, she can quickly rapid-fire spitballs by the detention kids at ease.
  • Badass Adorable:
    • Even as a child, Manolo was able to effortlessly perform amazing feats of bullfighting.
    • Since she was a child, Maria has always been upbeat and adorable. Ten years later, and she became a certified badass.
  • Badass Beard:
    • Xibalba has a very cool and suave-y looking beard.
    • One of Chato’s defining features that sets him apart is a round, un-kept beard.
  • Badass Family: Generations upon generations of Sanchez bullfighters (and would-be musicians) right on down to Carlos, Carmen, Manolo and Maria.
  • Badass Preacher: One of these is seen among the San Angel townsfolk. He's also a luchador.
  • Be Yourself: Manolo learns this moral in the world of the dead.
  • The Bet: La Muerte and Xibalba have one concerning who Maria will marry. The former backs Manolo, while the latter backs Joaquin. The winner will take over the Land of the Remembered.
  • Betty and Veronica: Maria is the Archie, while kind-hearted musician Manolo is the Betty and Glory Seeker soldier Joaquin is the Veronica. Both are childhood friends, a role usually reserved for the Betty.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Do not assume that pissing Monolo off won't end badly for you.
    • La Muerte is a kind and loving ruler. Do not push her Berserk Buttonnote .
  • Big Bad Ensemble: Xibalba is the primary villain, while Chakal and his bandits pose a threat to the characters in the Land of the Living. Xibalba ultimately admits defeat once it's clear he's out of angles to work, leaving Chakal as the final boss of the story.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Manolo and Maria just after the former comes back to life.
  • Big Fancy House: The castle of La Muerte.
  • Big Fun:
    • The Rodriguez Brothers are all jolly and love to play.
    • The Candlemaker is a rather big jovial ball of wax.
  • Big Good: Tied between La Muerte, ruler over the Land of the Remembered who represents the positive side of the afterlife and the Candlemaker.
  • Billy Elliot Plot: Manolo Sanchez wants to become a musician, while his father Carlos wants him to become a bullfighter. Even though Manolo does have the skills of a bullfighter, he refuses to kill a bull, even in the Land Of The Unremembered, where he had to fight a hundred bulls that all morphed into one gigantic bull. Eventually, Carlos sees for himself that his son does much better as a singer when the song of apology that Manolo sings for the bulls that were slaughtered by the Sanchez family is so moving that it just turns the gigantic bull into a pile of flower petals.
  • Blank Book: The Book of Life is this for those who are creating their own story, like Manolo.
  • Bratty Half-Pint:
    • Implied with the Detention Kids, given how they all were given detention. Goth-kid exemplifies this the most.
    • Joaquin shows shades of this as a child. He denies an old man, Xibalba in disguise, bread and eats the said bread in front of him. It's only when Xibalba offers him the Medal of Everlasting Life does a young Joaquin give it up.
  • Breakout Character: La Muerte and Xibalba gained a lot of attention for their designs, the former’s loving (but feisty) nature, the latter’s mischievous (but caring) nature and their relationship with each other.
  • Break the Cutie:
    • Manolo is mocked by townsfolk for not killing bulls. Looked down on and basically disowned by his own father at one point. Thinks he sees the love of his life die before his eyes. The guy gets put through the wringer.
    • Maria breaks into sobs when she learns Manolo has died.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Joaquin. After losing the Medal of Everlasting Life and getting his butt handed to him by Chakal.
    • Manolo besting Xibalba in the final trial deflates his ego. If just a bit.
  • Brick Joke: The bubble-clucking chicken ends up this way in the beginning of the movie while Maria, Manolo and Joaquin are children. The whole movie takes place, and far on the outskirts of town, just before the camera zooms in for the end, the bubble-clucking chicken makes another appearance.
  • Broken Aesop: Subverted. The kids decide to free the animals about to be butchered. Then it looks like Manolo will use his bullfighting skills with the big nasty hog...but he does not, because the truth is that Manolo does NOT want to be a bullfighter.
  • The Cameo: Manolo's operatic ancestor, Skeleton Jorge, was played by Real Life opera singer Placido Domingo.
  • Creator Cameo: Jorge voices the character Carmelo and his wife, Sandra, voices Scardelita.
  • Creator Provincialism/Patriotic Fervor: Lampshaded, with light-hearted jokes and references to Mexico as the center of the universe. Even the country itself has a moustache.
  • Dance Party Ending: Played with. Maria, Manolo and Joaquin's story ends there, but there's a little bit more in the "real world" after.
  • Dark Is Not Evil:
    • Manolo’s main attire is black and decorated with skull patterns, and he's The Protagonist.
    • La Muerte, personifying the Day of the Dead, when the deceased are celebrated in a colourful party style and the positive side of the afterlife. Plus, she's the Big Good in the story.
    • Xibalba’s love for La Muerte is one of the few indicators he isn't totally evil. He also indirectly helped Manolo fight Chakal and his gang, showcasing his official Heel-Face Turn.
  • Deader Than Dead: What apparently happens to those who fail the Candle-Maker's trial.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In addition to the bullfighting example, there's also the subtle disdain that some have about Maria's interest in books and her "unwomanly" attitudes.
  • Dem Bones: Both La Muerte and the Spirits of the Dead are based on calacas, skeleton figures which are decorated on The Day of the Dead, specifically the ones made out of candy. In particular, La Muerte’s overall design in particular is inspired by the iconic La Calavera Catrina of Mexican culture.
  • Despair Event Horizon:
    • Manolo and Maria each get theirs when the other dies. Manolo lets Xibalba kill him in order to see Maria again, while she loses the will to oppose her father's plan to marry her to Joaquin.
    • Joaquin himself seems pretty close to one after Manolo dies; his best friend is dead and the woman he loves is only marrying him because her father pushed her into it and the man she really loves is dead.
  • Digging Yourself Deeper: Joaquin does this when trying to woo Maria, which annoys her, thus making her leave the dinner table and go to her room.
  • Disney Death:
    • One bite from Xibalba's snake causes this, as Manolo finds out the hard way.
    • In the climax, Manolo appears to die again after trapping himself and Chakal under a church bell to contain an explosion that would have destroyed San Angel. He's saved by Joaquin giving him the Medal of Everlasting Life beforehand.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
  • Dual Wielding:
    • Manolo and Joaquin both wear two swords on their backs, and the former uses his at least once.
    • Chakal has two BFS... that are shark-shaped.
  • Emerald Power: The Medal of Everlasting Life glows green.
  • Everybody Hates Hades: Subverted.
    • La Muerte is unambiguously good.
    • Xibalba's a rather nasty death god but he's more petty and uncaring of humans than outright evil. He's quite capable of selfless love and admitting when he's been proven wrong.
  • Expy:
    • Manolo is the humanized version of Ferdinand. Both don't want to follow their family careers (both involving bullfighting), opting for a more peaceful pursuit.
    • Chakal is basically a more human version of the giant green ogre bandito El Malverde from El Tigre.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Excluding the Framing Device and prologue, the whole movie takes place over two days.
  • Fairy Tale: A story set in 1920 Mexico that involves God and magical items.
  • Fantastic Aesop: (Learned by Joaquin) If you are immortal and invincible, a willingness to fight isn't really courage.
  • Fastball Special: Manolo throws Maria at Chakal during a fight between the townspeople and the bandits.
  • Fatal Flaw:
    • La Muerte loves making bets. Xibalba often exploits this weakness.
    • Xibalba’s cheating nature when it comes to bets. It's the main cause of the estrangement between him and La Muerte. It also indirectly lead to trouble for Manolo and San Angel.
  • Fearless Fool: Luis and Carmelo, like other Sanchez members, were very brave but unfortunately very foolish as well, so much so that they allowed hubris to get the better of them.
  • Female Angel, Male Demon: Played with; La Muerte and Xibalba are both Gods of the Dead, but while Xibalba is dark and menacing with black wings and skulls for pupils, La Muerte is much lighter and more appealing, as befits the bright, positive realm she rules over.
  • Final Love Duet: "No Matter Where You Are."
  • Flight:
    • La Muerte can levitate herself.
    • Xibalba can either levitate himself or use his wings.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • When La Muerte and Xibalba make the bet, Maria has gotten into trouble and her father sends her off to study abroad. Manolo gives her the pig she rescued as a parting gift. Joaquin races to catch her bonnet as the wind blows it off. Both call farewells to her as the train pulls away. When Manolo opens the gift Maria gave him, it's a guitar, engraved with a message from Maria.
    • While playing, young Joaquin has fashioned a pretend moustache. After the Montage, he has grown a real one.
    • When Manolo dies, his soul is shown leaving his body. No such effect was shown for Maria during her apparent death. Also, when he checks in with the attendant in the Land of the Remembered, he accidentally gives Maria's name instead of his, and the attendant doesn't see her name on the list. A few scenes later, it's revealed that she's still alive.
    • When La Muerte and Xibalba take the forms of mortals to interact with Joaquin and Manolo during the A Minor Kidroduction part, they rather resemble Mary Beth and the security guard at the start, giving the hint as to who's really telling the story to the school children.
  • Framing Device: The main story is told to a group of schoolchildren by a museum tour guide reading from the Book of Life. Tellingly though, La Muerte and Xibalba look exactly as they did in the main story when they reveal themselves in the end.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus:
    • Characters from El Tigre appear in a crowd shot in the 2D animated prologue.
    • At the very end of the movie, when Xibalba and La Muerte kiss, They form the Sacred Heart.
  • Friend to All Children:
    • After returning to San Angel, Maria is helping the orphanage.
    • La Muerte is fond of all beings, especially children. Then, there's her scenes with the detention kids as Mary Beth.
  • Friend to All Living Things:
    • Manolo Sanchez. Given his refusal to kill bulls and giving Chuy to Maria when they were younger.
    • Maria Posada has a strong love for animals and won't stand for the killing of them. As a child she convinces Manolo and Joaquin to help her free a butcher's pigs. Later, the look of dread on her face during the main bullfight is what prompts Manolo to throw down his sword. She also has the "animated girl" ability to draw flocks of birds to her and have them hang around being cute and musical.
    • La Muerte. All creatures love her.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Manolo and Joaquin remain close friends despite their feelings for Maria.
  • Funny Background Event: As Joaquin digs himself deeper and deeper agreeing to Maria's "Women should be at their husbands beck and call" trap the shortest Nun can be seen gripping her knife and glaring at Joaquin.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar:
    • Notice how after La Muerte screams to summon Xibalba, when she discovers that he cheated, Xibalba has a bottle of wine and 2 glasses. If one were to imply further, there's a slight sexual implication, since they're married and would have drunk wine.
    • It's a quick moment, but here, Xibalba is looking at La Muerte's breasts.
  • Glowing Eyelights of Undeath: The spirits have yellow ones.
  • God Couple: Xibalba and La Muerte seem to swing in and out of this; they both love to make bets and Xibalba always cheats, leading to them becoming estranged until La Muerte takes him back.
  • God in Human Form: La Muerte and Xibalba disguise themselves as an old woman and an old man respectively. In the Framing Device, they appear as Mary Beth and a museum security guard.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The eponymous Book of Life, which supposedly contains accounts of all events that have ever transpired.
  • Gretzky Has the Ball: Bullfighting is really toned down here. In real life, the bull is weakened by picadors who jab spears into his neck to weaken him so that the matador can further weaken him with the capote, with the goal of tiring him so much that he's forced to expose his lungs for the killing blow; here, the bull and the matador enter together. Also, Manolo's refusal to kill is somewhat meaningless, as in real bullfighting the bull will be killed after the bout whether or not the matador succeeds (a bull that fights more than once is far more dangerous, as he's learned how the fight will go).
  • Handicapped Badass:
    • Despite having lost an eye, an arm, and a leg, Skeleton Jorge, is not slowed down by these infirmities, nor does it diminish how awesome a swordsman he is.
    • Joaquin's eye gets damaged in the climax, resulting in him wearing a an eyepatch.
  • Hartman Hips: Pretty much every adult female in the film from Mary Beth to La Muerte, to Maria and Carmen, to incidentals in the background.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Carlos Sanchez sacrifices himself to buy some time so the children can run to warn General Posada that Chakal is coming for San Angel.
    • After being resurrected, Manolo traps himself and Chakal under a church bell with a lit pack of dynamite to save San Angel from the subsequent explosion.
    • Just before this, Joaquin secretly gives Manolo the Medal of Everlasting Life so he can survive the battle and marry Maria. Without protection, he loses an eye in the explosion. He expected to perform a real heroic sacrifice, too - he clearly didn't expect Manolo to shove him out of the danger zone.
  • He's Dead, Jim: Multiple examples. This is a movie about the Day of the Dead. The Candlemaker explains that every shining candle in his cave of souls is a life.
    • The Candlemaker shows Manolo's candle, snuffed too early.
    • Carlos' candle is blown out on screen to avoid a Family-Unfriendly Death when he takes on Chakal and his banditos by himself.
  • Heterosexual Lifepartner: Manolo Sanchez and Joaquin Mondragon, they may be after the same woman but the two are best friends and constantly refer to each other as "Brother."
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Both Manolo and Joaquin (especially Joaquin) tower over and are much broader than Maria.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Both main female characters, Maria and La Muerte.
  • In the Doldrums: The Land of the Forgotten is a dark, near-featureless plane.
  • In The Style Of: Mexican guitar versions of Mumford And Sons' "I Will Wait", Radiohead's "I'm a Creep" and Elvis Presley's "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You".
  • It Runs in the Family: The Sanchez family boasts three main traits.
    • The first is bullfighting. And, as Carmen points out, it is why there are so many Sanchezes in the Land of the Remembered, as they were all killed in the ring.
    • The second is music. Manolo has an ancestor several generations back who wanted to be an opera singer but was pushed into bullfighting. As such, he sympathizes with Manolo, and even gets one heck of a solo in the big final battle. (Fittingly, he is voiced by Placido Domingo!)
    • The third is a certain unflinching courage. It could be argued that Manolo got his due to La Muerta's blessing. But his mother, Carmen, on meeting Xibalba, bitchslapped him.
  • I Will Wait for You: Manolo and Joaquin wait ten years for Maria to return from Europe, shown through a montage set to, appropriately enough, a mariachi rendition of the song of the same name.
  • Jaw Drop: Xibalba does an epic one after Manolo passes his challenge by taming the giant bull.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Joaquin's conceited and his fame has gone to his head, but he's still a good guy under it all. Best shown during the wedding when, despite getting what he wants, he's less than happy because Maria is basically being forced. Before Chakal attacks it looks like he is about to call the wedding off.
    • General Posada is a bit of a jerk, being very strict with Maria and trying to make her decisions on who she'll marry for her, but he was sincerely saddened when everyone thought Maria died and near the end of the film he accepted Manolo with open arms.
    • Unlike regular villains, Xibalba only sought to rule his wife's world out of loneliness. He is even undoubtedly (if begrudgingly) impressed after Manolo’s heroism bests him and cheerfully takes part in the battle against Chakal at the conclusion, if indirectly. But, the biggest example that shows Xibalba isn't completely heartless is his love for La Muerte.
  • Kissing Discretion Shot: La Muerte and Xibalba get in a few smooches, but always obscured by La Muerte's enormous hat. It serves dual purpose- Xibalba is a lot less humanoid than La Muerte, so actually showing the characters sucking face might look rather strange, and the combination of Nice Hat plus Xibalba's spread wings forms an image of the Sacred Heart.
  • Lightning Reveal: Manolo's skeleton form is first revealed this way, just before he asks Xibalba to kill him.
  • Love at First Note: Not the first time they've met, but Maria's Love Epiphany towards Manolo is triggered when she first hears him sing.
  • MacGuffin: The Medal of Everlasting Life. Anyone who wears it cannot be hurt or killed. Joaquin ends up with it as part of the wager between La Muerta and Xibalba. Chakal had it once and seeks to get it back. In the final battle, several people end up with a chance to wear it, and be temporarily badass.
  • Magical Accessory: The Medal of Everlasting Life. Anyone who wears it cannot be harmed or killed, making them effectively immortal.
  • Magnificent Moustaches of Mexico:
    • Present throughout the movie, of course, but taken Up to Eleven when Mexico itself is depicted as having one of these.
    • Joaquin wore a fake one until he was able to grow a real one.
    • Luis has probably the most impressive moustache among the Sanchez family.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Chakal means Jackal in regular spanish terminology, but in mexican slang, the word can mean '"the top" or "cool". It can also mean "someone who takes advantage of of others through force."
    • Chato means different things in Spanish depending on the context, it can mean short/blunt, flat, snub-nosed, or dear (as in the one you love).
    • "La Muerte" is Spanish for "the death."
    • "Xibalba" was the Mayan term for the underworld.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: La Muerte and Xibalba first make The Bet when they see Manolo, Maria and Joaquin playing together as children.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Played with in regards to Manolo's mother Carmen. She dies before the events of the film, and it is never explained why, but she still becomes a supporting character due to the nature of the setting. Manolo meets her in the Land of the Remembered, and she accompanies him on his journey.
    • Joaquin's mother is never mentioned or seen.
    • Nor is Maria's.
  • Monster Shaped Mountain: The Cave of Souls, which is not so much just a mountain Its shaped like the Coatlicue stone idol, Precolumbian goddess of life and dead. When approached, it comes to life as a Judgement entity.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: A rare example of an outside party doing the murdering. When it looks like Xibalba is going to lose The Bet, he has Manolo killed via snake bite. While it technically works, it turns out to be far from the last word on the subject.
  • Musicalis Interruptus: "I Will Wait," "Just A Friend" and "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" all end this way. The former is cut off by Carlos dragging Manolo off to prepare for the bullfight, while the latter two are stopped by Chuy attacking the Rodriguez brothers.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Almost all of the songs are performed by the characters themselves, practiced and performed in real time, rather than just being random asides like in (say) Disney movies.
  • Music Soothes the Savage Beast: Xibalba lets Manolo challenge him to a wager at which he is allowed to pick the task. The dirty cheater chooses bullfighting — which he knows Manolo hates. As if that weren't bad enough, the task is that Manolo must defeat every single bull every Sanchez before him has ever faced — all at once. And when Manolo succeeds at that, Xibalba combines them into one mega-bull and still the hero does not flinch, instead playing an apology song.
  • My Greatest Failure: Played with. Manolo's father tells his son when he is very small that he will grow up to be the greatest of the Sanchezes. But when Manolo refuses to kill the bull, he reacts very badly. But when Manolo lives up to his heroic destiny, his father says that Manolo has indeed become the greatest of the Sanchezes.
  • Never Say "Die": Funnily enough, for a film about the Day of the Dead. Manolo doesn't die and the arena bulls aren't (in most lines) killed; they 'pass away' and are 'finished' respectively. The oddest example: Joaquin's father "passed away" fighting against Chakal.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: In the trailer, Maria sees a snake coming near her and Manolo, shouts his name, he gets bitten and dies. In the movie, Maria sees the snake, shouts Manolo's name, protects him by going in front of the snake which bites her once, and she dies. Subverted later, as Manolo then got voluntarily bitten twice by the snake while Maria just needed a kiss to come back to life, because she was only bitten once.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Manolo Sanchez is naturally kind, loyal and nonviolent.
    • The Candlemaker is a humble and friendly God.
    • All of the Rodriguez Brothers are friendly, helpful, and fun-loving.
    • La Muerte. Her profile states that she's a kind ruler and she's been established as the Big Good.
  • Nice Hat:
    • Joao has a nice bowler hat.
    • La Muerte boasts an absolutely enormous one, bedecked with candles, marigolds, feathers and skulls, as par due to being inspired by La Calavera Catrina. If she weren't a god, there is no way that thing would stay on her head. It also reacts to her emotions. The candles turn into flares when she is furious, and Roman Candles when she is passionately happy.
    • Carmelo Sanchez wears an Aztec headdress which identifies him being of native Mesoamerican origin.
    • Both of the Adelita Twins wear impressive looking sombreros.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • Whatever each of the Detention Kids did to be called "Detention kids".
    • We never find out exactly how La Muerte and Xibalba became estranged. Allusions are made to Xibalba cheating to win a previous wager, but no other details are given.
  • One Head Taller: Manolo and Joaquin are both noticeably taller than Maria.
  • One Steve Limit: Subverted. The film has characters named Maria and Mary.
  • Only Friend:
    • Chuy to Maria when she was studying abroad for 10 years.
    • La Muerte is heavily implied to be this to her husband, Xibalba. The realm he rules over has souls who just rot into ashes.
  • Orphean Rescue: Manolo thinks he's doing this for Maria when Xibalba sends him to the Land of the Remembered. In reality, he's the one who's been killed.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: Manolo is killed by two bites from Xibalba's snake/staff, kicking off the plot.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything!: Manolo says this about being reunited with Maria after her apparent death. Xibalba responds by sending him to the afterlife.
  • Post-Kiss Catatonia: Maria appears briefly disoriented after her Big Damn Kiss with Manolo. Considering the context, it's probably justified.
  • The Power of Love:
    • A major theme of the film.
    Del Toro: It’s the story of two lovers who refuse to be separated by anything...It's about love not giving up.
    • Manolo Sanchez. His voice actor states that his true power is love.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Both Maria and La Muerte have hair that goe all the way down to their ankles.
  • Reality Ensues: An example that is Played for Laughs. Joaquin asks why Chakal doesn't pick on someone his own size.
    Citizen: 'Cause no one's that big, man!
  • Rearrange the Song: A lot of pop hits are turned Mariachi-style or given a Mexican lilt to fit the environment of the movie.
  • Red Is Heroic:
    • Maria’s dress is red and she's the one who rallies the townspeople to stand against Chakal.
    • La Muerte wears a red dress and is the Big Good.
    • The Adelita Twins both wear predominately red clothes and are heroic characters based on La Adelita, the Mexican cultural icon of a strong and patriotic Mexican woman.
  • Rousing Speech: Maria gives one to the entire town of San Angel, who have all been mostly cowering from Chakal the entire time.
  • Rule of Three: The Medal of Everlasting Life. Chakal had it. Xibalba stole it back, causing Chakal to go monomaniacal to seek it back. But Xibalba traded it to Joaquin, who used it to launch himself to fame in hopes of honoring his father. Then Joaquin lost it to one of the banditos, who in turn ended up losing it to the citizens of San Angel, before Joaquin gave it to Manolo.
  • Say My Name:
    • Joaquin loves to shout his own name during combat.
    • When Manolo dies, the last thing he says is Maria's name.
    • When she finds out Xibalba cheated to win the wager, La Muerte shouts out Xibalba's name (see Skyward Scream below).
  • Scenery Gorn: The Land of the Forgotten, which is a very grey place filled with the forgotten dead, who are likely crumble to sand at any given moment.
  • Setting Update: The plot is very similar to "Orpheus and Eurydice", though transplanted to turn-of-the-century Mexico, with an added focus on a cultural holiday - the Day of the Dead.
  • Shared Family Quirks: Luis, Jorge and Carmelo shared a running Sanchez trait of handicapping oneself when fighting bulls because "fighting otherwise is for cowards". Jorge also shares Manolo's love and talent for music.
  • She Is All Grown Up:
    • The main plot is kicked off when Maria returns to San Angel after several years studying abroad.
    • Maria herself has a moment like this when she sees Manolo singing "Creep."
  • Shipper on Deck:
    • Chuy appears to support Manolo/Maria.
    • Carlos advises Manolo to fight for Maria if he really loves her.
    • General Posada prefers that Maria marry Joaquin.
    • La Muerte wagers Manolo and Maria will marry.
    • Xibalba wagers Joaquin and Maria will marry.
  • Ship Tease: The scene where the Adelita Twins dance with Joaquin by the end of the film.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several of the songs the mariachi band sings while Manolo is trying to court Maria. Also, at crowd shot of Mexico at the beginning of the movie, you can spot Manny and Frida having fun off to the side.
    • The town is named San Angel. Likely after Televisa San Angel, the largest media company in Mexico.
    • Jorge Sanchez is pretty much a dead ringer for Don Quixote.
    • In the climax, the town Priest puts on a luchador mask and delivers wrestling attacks to the bandits. The mask's design and the fact he's a Priest call to mind Fray Tormenta, the legendary wrestling Priest and Folk Hero.
  • Shown Their Work: When playing the guitar, Manolo is making the correct chord shapes.
  • Sickly Green Glow:
    • Part of Xibalba’s color scheme has a deathly shade of green.
    • Instead of unique artistic designs on their skulls the Forgotten have glowing green spirals.
  • Silk Hiding Steel:
    • Maria becomes more proper after the Time Skip, but keeps her fighting spirit.
    • La Muerte is a proper lady with a soul as sweet as the candy she's made out of. But, she's not one to be trifled with. Just ask Xibalba.
  • Single-Target Sexuality:
    • "I Will Wait For You", basically describes how Manolo will wait for Maria.
    • Maria towards Manolo.
    "And look closely: she has the Sanchez curl next to her eyes. She only has eyes for Manolo." – Jorge Gutierrez from The Art of the Book of Life.
    • Like Manolo, Joaquin has only had eyes for Maria.
    • Xibalba and La Muerte only have eyes for each other.
    "His flames burn green with envy. The only red in his design is in his skull-shaped irises, because he only has eyes for La Muerte."

    "Her dress is red because it represents love, passion, and life. The only blue in her design is in her eyes, because she only has eyes for Xibalba."
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man:
    • Maria wants to be listened to and loved for more than just her looks, as she demonstrates when she gets annoyed with Joaquin for not understanding this. It's only when Joaquin shows his true self that she agrees to seriously think about his proposal. Maria falls in love with and marries Manolo, the humble, sweet musician who promises to never stop loving her. In fact, the first indications she gets her love epiphany is when he publicly refuses to kill the bull.
    • Implied with La Muerte. In the opening, she sadly tells Xibalba he's not the man she fell in love with years ago. She only gets back with Xibalba when he admits his mistake and apologizes.
  • Skyward Scream:
    • As Manolo holds Maria's seemingly-dead body, he gives off a terrifically anguished one.
    • La Muerte lets loose a truly epic one when she finds out that Xibalba cheated to win their bet. Just before she screams, Candlemaker warns the Sanchezes, "You'd better cover your ears."
  • Spiritual Successor: To El Tigre: same creators, same theme of a family with generations of awesome, same theme of loving, respecting, and remembering the dead.
  • Stay in the Kitchen: Maria sarcastically brings this idea up when discussing a hypothetical marriage to Joaquin with him. He's too preoccupied with her looks to notice her disdain for what she's saying and unknowingly agrees with her, which briefly drives her off.
  • Stealth Pun: Pancho says he and his friends ran into four bars... right before running into a bar. Ouch!
  • Strong Family Resemblance:
    • Carlos is essentially an older version of his son Manolo with a moustache, smaller eyes and graying hair.
    • The Rodriguez Brothers could all be triplets if there weren't some subtle ways to tell them apart: Pablo is the shortest, Pancho has the most pronounced beard, and Pepe has a "smile" moustache.
  • Taking the Bullet: When Xibalba's snake first attacks Manolo, Maria pushes him out of the way and gets bitten herself, resulting in her apparent death.
  • Time Passes Montage: Maria doesn't get one, but Manolo and Joaquin share one that illustrates them growing from boys to men in San Angel.
  • Together in Death:
    • Attempted by Manolo after Maria's apparent death. It fails because she's still alive.
    • Carlos and Carmen are reunited following the former's death and seem quite happy together.
  • Too Dumb to Live: At least three of the deceased Sanchezes died by trying some stunts as bullfighters, all believing that "(Insert subject here) are for cowards":
    • Luis tried fighting three bulls at once because "fighting just one bull is for cowards".
    • Jorge tried fighting a bull with just one arm and leg because "fighting with two arms and legs is for cowards".
    • Carmelo fought a bull without using a cape, because "using a cape is for cowards".
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Near the end of the second trailer, it happens in a brief second but one can see The Sanchez ancestors near the climax.
  • Transformation Sequence: Manolo gets one when the gods bring him back to life.
  • True Companions:
    • Manolo's mariachi friends stick with him even when the rest of the town dislikes him.
    • Manolo, Maria and Joaquin have been this since they were children.
  • True Love's Kiss: Zig-zagged. Maria "dies" after being bitten by Xibalba's snake staff. She wakes after Joaquin kisses her, while wearing the Medal of Everlasting Life, which gleams magically when he does so. It turns out, though, that one bite from the snake staff is only enough to induce a trancelike coma. It takes two bites to kill...but Xibalba is a notorious cheater, so it is never clear whether she really died or the medal had anything to do with her waking.
  • Twirl of Love: Manolo and Maria do this as an attack on Chakal.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Manolo, Joaquin and Maria.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Xibalba and La Muerte. They are currently estranged, but still married. La Muerte is a beautiful goddess of the dead made out of sweet candy, but Xibalba is basically a skeleton with wings, armor, and a Sickly Green Glow, made out of tar and everything icky in the world.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Jorge the conquistador Sanchez member and Carmelo the native Mesoamerican Sanchez member, have a rather complicated relationship with each other. The former often calling the latter savage and the latter unintentionally bumps around the former. Not surprising considering the complicated history between the conquistadors and Mesoamericans. They're still family though.
  • Wacky Marriage Proposal: Manolo proposes to Maria by making a pathway out of candles to guide her to a tree on the outskirts of town, where he performs a song for her. It doesn't work out, but not in the usual way.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy:
    • Manolo worries deeply about disappointing his father by not being a great bullfighter like the rest of the men in his family.
    • Joaquin aspires to live up to the reputation of his late father.
  • What Do You Mean, It's for Kids?: Stated In-Universe by one of the kids in the Framing Device when characters of the story apparently start getting killed.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Played with. In the timeframe of the movie, Bullfighting was the biggest sport, and the great matadors were roughly equivalent to modern day sports heroes. Manolo refusing outright to kill the bull not only had the spectators react with dismay, the entire town turned on him, such that General Posada invited the whole town, including people he hates, to Maria's welcome back party — except Manolo.
  • Why Waste a Wedding?: Maria and Joaquin's wedding is interrupted by the bandits. After the Final Battle, it resumes with Manolo as the groom instead.
  • With This Ring: Joaquin produces one heck of a big shiny diamond ring to propose to Maria. It does not turn out to be important to the plot.
  • You and What Army?: Said by Chakal. Cue the Sanchez ancestors.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: When Maria has (seemingly) been killed by a snake that was about to bite Manolo, Manolo thinks it should have been him, and Joaquin says yes, it should have.

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