So when I saw the trailer for The Book of Life, I felt like I was in for something far different. Maybe it would be bog-standard, story-wise, but at least it would have some cool animation, a killer art style, and a diverse cast. What I didn't expect, though, was a movie that would come out of left field and shock me with how absolutely different it is from other kids movies. This is a movie every child should see, I think. And every adult. And every human. Let me give you some reasons why this movie is one of the most necessary films of the year, and (hopefully) convince you to go see it.
A Happy Story of Life... and Death
|Guys, her skin is made of sugar crystals. It's amazing.|
That's why The Book of Life does so much right at the very beginning. Drawing from Mexican folklore, audiences are told of two afterlives, one which is a colorful, happy party, another which is a dreary, desolate and empty place. The former is for the dead that have been remembered, the latter is for those who have been forgotten. Basically, the message is that as long as somebody remembers you ever existed, you won't ever disappear. Your memory will be kept alive by people for hundreds, if not thousands of years. Death is put on display and celebrated, giving kids (and adults) who have a primordial fear of death a positive spin on the process. As one of those individuals, I know it certainly helped me feel a lot better about the whole idea. If this movie had existed when I was a little kid, it would have meant the world to me.
Masculinity Put to the Test
|Channing Tatum is a little "wooden" in this movie. I am so sorry.|
Also vital to this movie's portrayal of masculinity is the way in which women are treated by men. Too often, women are portrayed as loving domestic servants who owe men favors for their kindness. Not so here. The main female character, Maria (played by the always awesome Zoe Saldana,) is walked home at one point by longtime friend, Joaquin (a surprisingly great Channing Tatum.) For walking her home, for keeping her company, he sticks out his cheek in expectation of a kiss. A kiss, as luck would have it, that he doesn't receive. Joaquin is not rewarded for being a "nice guy" (he's actually a bit of an egomaniac... like most self-proclaimed "nice guys.") His reward is simply a continued friendship with Maria. In an age where guys whine and moan about being "friendzoned," this is a super-important message for little boys. Being nice doesn't mean you're owed anything. Period. And The Book of Life gets this. Why don't more movies?
Whitewashing? Not In My Kids Movie!
|Yes, there is a "Good Day" joke, and it's fucking glorious.|
With the exception of Tatum and Ron Perlman (who also does a fantastic job,) every character here is represented by somebody of their own race. There's no "funny" white guy doing an insulting "street" voice behind the God-like Candle Maker; instead, there's a self-referential and charming Ice Cube. The three street musicians are not insultingly portrayed by a Rob Schneider or a... uh... I dunno, a Jeff Dunham; we've got Gabriel Iglesias and the legendary Cheech Marin lending their voices. This is a movie where actors, big-name or not, are allowed to have agency playing characters who they can identify with on a racial level. Compare this to Exodus, a Moses movie with an all-white main cast, because y'know, ticket sales and disgusting racism that still exists in Hollywood. Which is sad, considering that star power might let it monetarily overpower the more sincere, more heartfelt Book, which is filled with people are celebrating their heritage, their folklore, their history. If you think Christian Bale deserves a single cent for playing an Egyptian man, then congrats, you're part of the problem. Go give your money to a movie that's earned it.
Leave Your Talking Animals and Eurocentric Sensibilities Behind, Kids
|Not a single silver spire or green tree in sight.|
What's also really cool is the lack of cutesy, cloying crap that comes with normal kids films, as well as the incredibly bland European influence. If I have to see another talking horse, red dragon, or white castle, I'm going to vomit. Instead, we've got vibrant, colorful imagery infused with Mexican folklore and sensibilities, unlike anything I think I've ever seen in a modern kids film. It's a celebration of another culture, and a beautiful one at that. As somebody who has lived in and traveled to New Mexico, and who is enamored with the melting pot of cultures that exists there, this is the absolute best portrayal of the Day of the Dead that I think I could ever see. It's not portrayed as some bizarre ritual, but as a bright celebration of multiple planes of existence. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Please Give This Movie Some Money. Anything. Really.
|Look, there's Pop! toys. You like those, right? Right?!|
Plus, there's a fucking cover of Radiohead's "Creep" thrown in. When's the last time you saw that in a kids movie? Come on.