Last year was not great for movies, but there were a handful that came out that I thought were really special. I’m going to take a few paragraphs now to tell you about my favorite, which I also thought was the best movie that came out last year, and one you should see for SO MANY reasons
The Book of Life is a story that’s been told before (it’s a hero’s journey with a love triangle and some meddling gods thrown in for good measure), but it is so beautiful and richly conceived that it feels completely fresh. It’s a framed narrative: a school group goes to a museum and is told the story of a love triangle being steered by the bet of two death gods, Xibalba, Lord of the Forgotten and La Muerte, Lady of the Remembered. Zoe Saldana plays Maria, the beautiful woman torn between Diego Luna’s Manolo and Channing Tatum’s Joaquin; when Xibalba meddles in order to win the bet, Manolo ends up in the afterlife and must figure out how to return to the land of the living.
The Book of Life is a celebration. It is bright, and musical, and joyful; the animation is absolutely sumptuous, and the attention to detail is meticulous (the main characters are wooden toys being used to act out the story, so they are animated with woodgrain and pin-jointed limbs). It was released on Halloween because the story is framed by the Mexican Dia de los Muertos tradition, but it’s not scary – it emphasizes the fact that the holiday is about the lives people lived, rather than their deaths. The Land of the Remembered is an eternal party, because as long as people remember their loved ones, they live on and happily.
I can’t really emphasize enough how good this movie is – which is awesome because it’s also important. It’s voiced almost entirely by Hispanic people, with a Hispanic director; it’s not a franchise movie or a sequel; it celebrates a culture other than white or European, and does so respectfully and accurately. It’s also just plain a whole lot of fun.