MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By 20th Century Fox
Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Animated Feature
As Christians prepare for All Saints’ Day, it might be a good time for us to become acquainted with Mexico’s Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos). The three-day celebration begins on October 31, All Hallows Eve, when children make an altar to invited the departed children (angelitos) to return for a visit. On November 1, All Saints Day, the adult spirits return. November 2 is the big day of festivities, when families visit cemeteries to honor those who have died. There is a spirit of fun, with costumes, music, dancing and skeleton figures everywhere.
The Book of Life, directed, scripted, and designed by Mexican filmmakers, is an attempt to share a distinctive culture with a world audience in need of an education. The movie begins and ends with a group of schoolchildren visiting a museum in which an enthusiastic tour guide (voiced by Christina Applegate) opens the Book of Life and regales the kids with the real story behind the holiday.
It’s a tall tale, indeed, involving two gods who oversee the eternal destinations of the departed. La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) reigns over the Land of the Remembered and her husband Xibalba (Ron Perlman) is Lord over the Land of the Forgotten. Seeing three children at play – two boys and a girl – they make a friendly wager about which boy will eventually win the heart of the girl. Manolo (Diego Luna) is a sensitive soul who comes from a family of bullfighters but would rather sing songs and play his guitar. Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is the son of a soldier and mucho macho. The adventure will not only span years, but also involve plot points that will send all of the characters into the realm of the dead.
Before you get too worked up about how pagan-y this all sounds, you need to know that Catholicism is alive and well in Mexico and that the Christian faith comes to the party every year. It’s best to watch this film as a Mexican folk tale, spiced up with plenty of jokes and musical parodies.
The Book of Life, most of all, is visually dazzling, with bright colors and a sense of humor and 3D effects that sweep you into the three worlds of the story. It also has a nice message about the importance of remembering those you love and allowing them to continue to live in your heart.
This film will likely take a long time to find an audience. It’s too involved for young children (although it tries hard to win them over); the little ones in the theater with me were pretty fidgety. Mature adults will likely avoid this movie, as well. I imagine that the YA readers who enjoy the Percy Jackson books and their modern riffs on Greek and Roman mythology would find this movie most entertaining.
Christians can use this movie as an opportunity to reflect upon how faith in Jesus Christ also opens up a kingdom of eternal possibilities and faithful remembrance, for all the saints, including us.
Three halos: A celebratory fable about life, death and the afterlife.
One pitchfork: For some childish humor; an imaginative world that happens to involve death.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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