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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.

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Tropes appearing in this film:

  • The Ace: Joaquin, or so it seems, but he is actually using The Amulet of Everlasting life, making it impossible to kill or even hurt him. Because of this Manolo and Maria fit the trope better, though by the end Joaquin decides to earn his reputation honestly.
  • Action Girl: On the living side we have Maria, who has studied Fencing and Kung Fu. On the dead side we have The Adelita twins, who won the Revolution.
  • Action Mom: Manolo's mother Carmen once he arrives in the Land of the Remembered. She travels to the edge of the Land of the Remembered, climbs a gigantic statue and slaps Xibalba.
  • Adorkable: Manolo and Joaquin both display elements of this.
  • All Animals Are Dogs: Chuy the pig behaves thus.
  • 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.
  • Animated Musical: rather differently than traditional.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Bandito: A group of them serve as secondary antagonists.
  • Badass Family: Generations upon generations of Sanchez bullfighters (and would-be musicians) right on down to Carlos, Carmen, Manolo and Maria.
  • Badass Moustache: Multiple examples.
    • Joaquin's father.
    • General Posada.
    • Skeleton Luis, Manolo's grandfather.
    • Skeleton Jorge, Manolo's great-grandfather.
    • Adult Joaquin himself until the end.
    • Even Xibalba and Mexico itself.
  • Badass Preacher: One of these is seen among the San Angel townsfolk.
  • Banister Slide: Maria does it a couple of times.
  • Battle Couple: Manolo and Maria during the climax.
  • 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.
  • 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 Good: La Muerte, ruler over the Land of the Remembered.
  • Blank Book: The Book of Life is this for those who are creating their own story, like Manolo.
  • Blood Sport: The more unsavory aspects of bullfighting are not glossed over, and Manolo's refusal to comply with them is a plot point.
  • 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.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Manolo and Maria.
  • The Cameo: Manolo's operatic ancestor, Skeleton Jorge, was played by Real Life opera singer Placido Domingo.
  • The Cavalry: The Sanchez Ancestors near the climax.
  • Childhood Friends: Manolo, Maria and Joaquin.
  • City on the Water: San Angel sits in the middle of a lake.
  • Close-Knit Community: San Angel, the protagonists' hometown.
  • Costume Porn: Going hand in hand with the Scenery Porn.
  • 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.
  • Culture Chop Suey: The film really highlights both the Spanish and Mesoamerican influences in Mexican culture.
  • Dance Battler: Manolo and later, Maria.
  • 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 Evil: Xibalba, who roughly personifies the Nothing After Death, though he's really more Amoral than Evil.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: La Muerte, personifying the Day of the Dead, when the deceased are celebrated in a colourful party style.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: In addition to the bullfighting example, there's also the subtle disdain some have of Maria's interest in books and "unwomanly" attitudes.
  • Dem Bones: The spirits of the dead are represented as skeletons (or perhaps calaca skeleton dolls).
  • 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.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Manolo is so determined to do whatever it takes to get back to Maria, that he flat out tells off Xibalba. When the death god gets in his face about it, he does not back down.
  • 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.
  • Disappeared Dad: Joaquin's father is a decorated hero of the war who has a monument in the middle of San Angel.
  • Family Business: Manolo comes from a long line of bullfighters on his father's side.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Manolo's father steers him away from the guitar to continue the family tradition of bullfighting.
  • Fastball Special: Manolo throws Maria at Chakal during a fight between the townspeople and the bandits.
  • 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."
  • Five-Token Band: The human kids that Mary Beth who's actually La Muerte in disguise, talks to at the museum during the Framing Device are this: Sanjay is Indian-American, the Goth Kid is Mexican-American, Sasha is Russian-American, Jane is Chinese-American, and Joao is Brazilian-American. Here's a page from the movie's official guidebook.
  • 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.
  • 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 Living Things: Maria. As a child she convinces Manolo and Joachin 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.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Manolo and Joaquin remain close friends despite their feelings for Maria.
  • 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.
  • Great Big Book of Everything: The eponymous Book of Life, which supposedly contains accounts of all events that have ever transpired.
  • 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.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Chakal is a real misanthrope.
  • Heroic Sacrifice:
    • Maria does two. First she saves Manolo from Xibalba's snake, and later she agrees to marry Joaquin so San Angel will be protected.
    • 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.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Both Manolo and Joaquin (especially Joaquin) tower over and are much broader than Maria.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Xibalba believes this strongly. He might have had a change of heart by the end, however.
  • Humans Are Special: La Muerte, meanwhile, holds the opposite perspective, and her willingness to prove it is why she agrees to The Bet.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: During the "I Will Wait For You" montage.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Both main female characters, Maria and La Muerte.
  • Impossible Task: Xibalba gives Manolo one such in order to win his life back and be reunited with Maria; and he cheats to do it.
  • 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".
  • Instrument of Murder: Manolo is seen using his guitar as a sword at one point.
  • 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.
    • 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 Want" Song: "Creep" for Manolo.
  • I Will Wait for You: Manolo and Joaquin wait ten years for Maria to return from Europe, montaged to the song of the same name, even.
  • Jaw Drop: Xibalba does an epic one after Manolo passes his challenge by taming the giant bull.
  • Jerkass Gods: Xibalba cheats in his bet with Le Muerte, putting Maria in a coma and killing Manolo.
  • Jukebox Musical: With the exception of "I Love You Too Much" and "The Apology Song"
  • Lady and Knight: Manolo and Joaquin are the White Knights to Maria's Bright Lady.
  • Large and in Charge:
    • Chakal, the king of the bandits, is a giant compared to his men.
    • There was also one of these amongst the Sanchez ancestors.
  • 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.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: General Posada detests Manolo and wants Maria to marry Joaquin instead. In the end, he finally relents.
  • Love Triangle: Between Manolo, Maria and Joaquin.
  • 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.
  • Magic Staff: Xibalba wields a staff resembling a two-headed snake which he can bring to life.
  • 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.
  • A Minor Kidroduction: La Muerte and Xibalba first make The Bet when they see Manolo, Maria and Joaquin playing together as children.
  • Missing Mom:
    • Manolo's mother Carmen dies before the events of the film, and it is never explained why. He later 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. 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.
  • 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 killed; they 'pass away' and are 'finished' respectively.
  • Nice Hat:
    • La Muerte boasts an absolutely enormous one, bedecked with candles, marigolds, feathers and skulls. 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.
  • Nonhuman Sidekick: Chuy, Maria's pet pig.
  • Noodle Incident: 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 True Love: Manolo and Maria.
  • 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.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: La Muerte's dress is covered in embroidery and marigolds, spreads out across the ground and is bordered at the hem with lit candles.
  • 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: Itís the story of two lovers who refuse to be separated by anything...It's about love not giving up.
  • Pursuing Parental Perils: Opposing examples:
    • Joaquin's whole life is built around honoring the legacy of his father, who was a great soldier who died in battle. At the end, he decides it's time to step out of his father's shadow and be his own man, and act like a real hero.
    • Manolo would prefer the life of a simple troubadour who sings from the heart, but he is forced into the dangerous world of bullfighting by his father, who insists on him living by the tradition of his family.
  • Rearrange the Song: A lot of pop hits are turned Mariachi-style or given a Mexican lilt to fit the environment of the movie.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: "The Ecstasy of Gold" from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly will be used at one point.
  • Resurrected Romance: What Manolo is hoping to accomplish.
  • 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.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: La Muerte becomes trapped in the Land of the Forgotten when Manolo dies, as she has lost the bet by default. Manolo must journey there to find her and tell her that Xibalba cheated.
  • Serenade Your Lover: Manolo's primary tactic for winning Maria's heart.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • Single-Target Sexuality:
    • Manolo and Joaquin towards Maria, especially the latter, who's popular with many women.
    • Xibalba and La Muerte only have eyes for each other.
  • 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."
  • Sore Loser: Xibalba, who would rather kill an innocent human than lose a wager. He seems to have ultimately gotten better.
  • 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.
  • Spoof Aesop: (Learned by Joaquin) If you are immortal and invincible, a willingness to fight isn't really courage.
  • 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.
  • Straw Misogynist: Joaquin's group of Yes Men act like this in one scene to accidentally make him look bad in front of Maria.
  • Strong Family Resemblance: Manolo's father is essentially an older version of him with a mustache and smaller eyes.
  • 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:
    • One tried bullfighting without a cape;
    • Another one tried bullfighting with an arm an a leg behind his back;
    • And yet another tried to take on three bulls at once.
  • Transformation Sequence: Manolo gets one when the gods bring him back to life.
  • Trapped in Another World: Manolo's predicament.
  • 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.
  • Two Guys and a Girl: Manolo, Joaquin and Maria.
  • Urine Trouble: during their childhood, Manolo experiences this after fighting bravely but having his hopes crushed.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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