A trio of three animated puppets stand in front of a festival in 'The Book of Life.'

Why You Should Rewatch ‘The Book of Life’ for Día de los Muertos

It’s Día de los Muertos and I want to take time to highlight this amazing animated film about the holiday. And no, it’s not Pixar’s Coco.

Recommended Videos

The Book of Life (2014) centers on a love story between three childhood friends: María, a general’s daughter; Joaquín, the son of a war hero; and Manolo, a matador who wants to be a musician. After being tricked and murdered by a God, Manolo must go on a journey through the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten to return to the love of his life and save his village from a bandit king who seeks to destroy the town.

And that’s just the basic plot. Here are all the reasons you should watch The Book of Life for Día de los Muertos.

1) An independent, beautifully-animated film

While the film was made by Fox (which now technically falls under the Disney umbrella), it is still an animated movie that was not made by Disney, Pixar, or Dreamworks, and as such deserves all the credit for being an independent animated film.

The filmmakers didn’t let a budget of $50 million stop them, as the movie is beautifully animated with multiple impressive set pieces and locations.

2) An amazing cast

The film features an amazing cast with Diego Luna, Zoe Saldaña, and Channing Tatum in the leading roles, with Luna and Saldaña doing their own singing. The main trio is technically in a love triangle, but the solid writing and performances emphasize that they are friends first, and would rather fight together than fight each other.

However, the greatest stars of the film are arguably Ron Perlman and Kate del Castillo for their electric chemistry as Xibalba and La Muerte, two married gods whose wager sets off the plot of the film.

3) A delightful soundtrack

Most of the songs are covers of popular songs, but they’re still beautifully covered by Luna and Saldaña. The use of popular songs also highlights the original songs in the soundtrack, namely the climactic “Apology Song,” where Manolo the bullfighter apologizes to every bull his family has killed.

4) Honoring and critiquing culture

The Book of Life honors the beautiful traditions of Mexico, while also critiquing some of the more questionable cultural practices. Mariachi music and Día de los Muertos obviously play major roles in the story and highlight the beauty of the culture. Also, while the word “machismo” is never used in the film, almost every male character struggles with what it means to be a man and live up to the legacy of his forefathers.

Thankfully, the film is able to resolve these issues: Manolo breaks the cycle of toxicity in his family by refusing to kill a bull and even apologizing to the many bulls his family killed over the years. Joaquín learns that getting the girl isn’t as important as her being happy, and that he would rather save his friend than be a hero.

5) Story and worldbuilding

Xibalba and La Muerte from 'The Book of Life'
(20th Century Fox)

The film has a wonderful plot that adapts the story of Orpheus and Eurydice but with a Mexican twist; instead of the Greek Underworld, Manolo passes through the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten to bargain for his life. He meets with the deceased members of his family who help him on his journey and encounters Gods and Goddesses of the modern and ancient Mexican pantheon.

The film also directly links to some of director Jorge R. Gutierrez’s other works, namely El Tigre and Maya and the Three. I will not spoil the connections but I encourage people to watch both shows.

6) Great holiday movie

It’s also just a great film for Día de los Muertos. It features many of the most well-known features of the holiday, such as the Pan de Muertos (bread for the dead), the marigold petals that guide the dead to the world of the living, and the importance of family.

7) Opening doors for representation

Miguel (12 year old Mexican boy) plays guitar for his smiling grandmother, Coco (elderly Mexican woman) in a scene from the Pixar film, 'Coco.'
(Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures)

Whether you think Coco (2017) is a knock-off of this film or not, the success of The Book of Life almost certainly helped it get made. Coco was the first film with an over $100 million budget to feature an all-Latinx cast, an investment that Disney/Pixar probably wouldn’t have made if they didn’t feel confident they could recoup it. If nothing else, The Book of Life proved there was an audience for films about Latinx stories.

Honestly, this film and others like it were major forces in bringing greater representation to film, in both animated and live-action. I can’t wait to see what other stories these films inspire.

(featured image: 20th Century Fox)

The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
Image of Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.