LATINO VOICES
10/21/2014 10:24 am ET Updated Oct 22, 2014

What A Film About The Day Of The Dead Can Teach Kids About Living

"The Book Of Life" is all about the Day of the Dead but it will make audiences feel very alive.

The animated film tells the story of Maria, Joaquin and Manolo, three young friends who become the victims of a divine wager between La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten.

Maria Posada (Zoe Saldana) is a bright young girl who is friends with Manolo Sanchez (Diego Luna), the youngest in a long line of prize-winning bullfighters, and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), the son of a military hero who once defeated the bandit Chacal. Both boys are in love with Maria and battle for her heart, despite their friendship.

The two rulers of the lands of the dead make a wager over which young man will marry Maria. La Muerte bets on kind-hearted Manolo and Xibalba chooses brave Joaquin. But Xibalba's trickery will lead Manolo to the adventure of a lifetime in the afterlife, as he tries to reunite with Maria.

"The Book of Life" is Jorge Gutiérrez's first feature film and it was produced by Guillermo del Toro, who has famously directed films like "Pan's Labyrinth." In an interview with NPR, Gutiérrez said he's had these ideas for the film since his best friend died when he was 9.

"My parents set me down, said, 'Your friend, Mauricio, he is with you as long as you tell his jokes and you remember him and you keep his memory alive by talking about him,' " Gutiérrez told NPR.

Since then the Day of the Dead has meant a great deal to him. Read below for five reasons why everyone should watch "The Book of Life."

1. Learn about another culture

"The Book of Life" is a story within a story, so it’s pretty obvious that it’s a way to teach children -- and adults -- about the Day of the Dead; a Mexican holiday that celebrates loved ones who have died. But the film takes it much further than that. It is one big celebration of Mexican culture, from Mariachis to Lucha Libre. Even the characters, which imitate wood and metal puppets, makes the movie “really feel very much like Mexican baroque" as del Toro told NPR.

Since the Day of the Dead is becoming a more popular holiday in the U.S., due in part to the growing Mexican American population, having a movie that truly engages audiences and explains exactly what this day means helps create better understanding between two cultures that are becoming more and more intertwined.

2. A celebration of death

The Day of The Dead, celebrated on November 1st and 2nd, is a way to joyfully honor those loved ones who’ve passed away. Although the concept may sound macabre to some, the movie does a beautiful job of making death colorful.

In the film, all those who have died but are still in their loved ones’ memories are allowed to be in the Land of the Remembered. It is one vibrant party ruled over by the beautiful La Muerte. On the other hand, those who aren’t remembered by anyone have to go to the Land of the Forgotten, a colorless depressing place where the trickster Xibalba rules.

"If you do something memorable, and you live a life that others admire and others look up to you, and you pass away, you get to go to the land of the remembered, this beautiful land that is all about memories," Gutierrez told NPR.

3. Don’t be afraid to be who you are

Throughout the film you see the three main characters: Manolo, Joaquin and Maria, struggle with their identity. Manolo comes from a long line of famous bullfighters but his true passion is music, and Maria. Although he is actually quite a talented bullfighter, he simply cannot bring himself to "finish the bull" at the end of the fight, becoming a huge disappointment to his father.

Joaquin on the other hand becomes a great hero but always feels he is living in the shadow of his father, the man who defeated the feared bandido Chacal. Joaquin also has a secret medal given to him by Xibalba as a kid, which doesn't let any harm come to him as long as he's wearing it. So there's a part of him that struggles with knowing that his title of hero isn't really merited unlike his father's.

With Maria, the struggle lies in deciding between what she wants and her duty to her family and town. While she has true feelings for Manolo, Joaquin is who her father wants her to marry because it would mean keeping him in town to protect everyone from the threat of Chacal.

With help from their ancestors, all three discover throughout their adventure that while it is important to remember your family and their legacy, everyone must "write their own story." The film is ultimately about loving life and who you are.

4. Strong female lead

María Posada makes a point throughout the film of getting people to treat her like the strong independent woman that she is. Mexico in the 1920s was not known for being all about gender equality and Maria is constantly having to hold her ground and tell those around her, mainly her father, that “I belong to no one.”

Maria’s character is in the middle of a love triangle but the fact that she’s being chased -- and sometimes saved -- by two handsome young men doesn’t take away from the fact that she’s smart, good with a sword and an avid animal rights defender who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and others. While recent animated movies like "Brave" and "Frozen" have made a case for strong female role models for children, it is refreshing to see a Latina in this role.

5. The music

Entire posts have been written solely about the music in “The Book Of Life.” Thanks to Manolo’s passion for music it plays a central role in the movie. Gutiérrez managed to turn songs, like Mumford & Sons' “I Will Wait” and Radiohead's "Creep," into rancheras, boleros and more.

Diego Luna, as an adult Manolo, sings many of the songs but other major names, like Plácido Domingo, also make an appearance. The soundtrack of "The Book of Life" is definitely worth your time.

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