The Book of Life parents guide

The Book of Life Parent Review

If depictions of the dead aren't an issue for you, "The Book of Life" may be a refreshing celebration of family as well as a fun look at Mexican traditions.

Overall B

In this colorful animation, a contest for the hand of the lovely Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana) goes awry when those in the world of the dead interfere with her two suitors, Joaquin and Manolo (voices of Channing Tatum and Diego Luna).

Violence C+
Sexual Content A-
Profanity B+
Substance Use B

The Book of Life is rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images.

Movie Review

Manolo (voice of Diego Luna) is a young man torn between a desire to please his father and a burning need to chart his own course. He is a Sanchez, and in his small Mexican town the family is known for their bull fighting skills. Manolo is no slouch in the bullring, as he dances and maneuvers deftly around the animal. However when the moment arrives when he should kill the bovine, he refuses, feeling there is no need to take its life. His father and the rest of the townsfolk view his lack of aggression as a weakness. Making matters worse, Manolo’s “big dream” isn’t to be a bullfighter, but to be a musician. He’d much rather be making music on his guitar—a precious gift from his childhood sweetheart Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana).

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Maria has been away in Spain for the past few years. Her return to the village has reignited the passions within both Manolo and another of her grade school chums, Joaquin (voice of Channing Tatum). The latter is a decorated war hero. Unfortunately their affections have left the seƱorita tired of the increasing jealously that taints their friendship. Even more troubling is Maria’s father. He wants his daughter to accept Joaquin’s hand in marriage because the commitment will ensure the local golden boy will stay and protect the community from a band of marauders.

But, of course, this movie isn’t about doing what your father demands of you. Instead it’s about finding your own way through life. Yet unlike so many other scripts aimed at kids, this title manages to balance respect for parents and family heritage with the need to reach for your own dreams. Just don’t expect this portrayal of the Day of the Dead holiday to follow a typical storyline. Instead it veers into the afterlife where literally colorful ancestors work together to try and save mortality from making a huge mistake.

Considering the number of characters and plotlines this production juggles within its hour-and-a-half of runtime, it manages to keep audiences engaged and chuckling. The tone of this animation is far more focused on the positive attributes of honoring those who have passed, than on ghoulish imagery—although we do have one ancestor who loses his head for a scene or two. There is also some mild violence, with most hits and punches taking place off-screen, although we do see one punch to the head. Other moments of peril including characters bitten by a snake.

Obviously, if you feel uncomfortable with depictions of the dead (many of whom are played here as ghost-like beings in the afterlife), then this title might be one to avoid. If that isn’t an issue, The Book of Life’s colorful imagery and marionette-style animation may be a refreshing celebration of family, as well as a fun look at Mexican traditions. It imparts messages about selflessness as the greatest attribute of a hero, and offers a great example of forgiveness that allows two enemies to work together. It will also likely leave you craving some churros by the time you leave the theater.

Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Starring Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate. Running time: 97 minutes. Theatrical release October 17, 2014. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Book of Life here.

The Book of Life Parents Guide

According to the website, the Day of the Dead “serves as a positive affirmation of the cycle of life and death, allowing people to reconnect with the spirits of their loved ones on the Other Side”. How do you honor your ancestors? Why is it important to remember those who have passed on before us?

Can you think of other movies that represent Mexico? Is the depiction similar or different from this one? How might our views of other countries be distorted by popular culture? How can we learn about life in other parts of the world, aside from travelling there?

Learn more about the holiday, The Day of the Dead.

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