“The Book of Life”
All Saints Day, in the Catholic
tradition, is when those who are officially declared “saints” by a
sitting pope are all honored at once.
It’s a traditional “holy day of
obligation,” meaning the faithful believers are supposed to attend Mass
that day, on November 1st.
Not surprisingly, it also became a day when
people remembered their loved ones who have departed, though it’s unlikely
officially declared them as “saints.”
Also not surprisingly, there
quickly arose a kind of counter-tradition, on October 31st,
or All Hallowed Eve, shortened to Halloween, where the evil spirits were
free to roam the earth, before they had to return to wherever they came from
when the spirits of the saints were collectively invoked the next day.
As we all know, our eclectic American culture
has embraced the witches, goblins, demons, ghosts, and skeletons as a kind
of children’s Trick or Treat costume occasion, with virtually no religious
significance remaining at all.
, “the center of the earth,” according to this delightful
little animated film, “The Day Of The Dead” is November 2nd,
when families remember their departed loved ones by holding commemorations
at their graveside, and lighting candles to their memories.
The spirits of those who are still remembered
can then live happily in The Place of Remembrance, where the departed carry
on in constant colorful fiesta.
But those who are no longer remembered on earth
are consigned to the Place of Forgetfulness, a dark, shadowy underworld
without joy or celebration (actually something akin to the biblical Hebrew
concept of Sheol). The
Place of Remembrance is presided over by the Good Queen, La Muerte (the
voice of Kate del Castillo).
The Place of Forgetfulness has the evil King,
Xibalba (the voice of Ron Perlman), who’s unhappy there, and wants to
trade realms with La Muerte, who will listen to him because he’s her
eternal husband? And
because he wants to make a wager with her, and she can’t resist a good
The wager centers around three
children in a small village:
Manolo (the voice of Diego Luna), Joaquin (the
voice of Channing Tatum), and Maria (the voice of Zoe Saldana).
Manolo and Joaquin are both in love with Maria,
but her father sends her off to get a private education.
La Muerte is betting that she eventually winds
up marrying Manolo, who comes from a family of bullfighters, but he just
wants to sing and play his guitar.
Xibalba is betting that Maria chooses Joaquin,
because he is strong and brave and promises to protect her.
Of course, Xibalba cheats, by giving Joaquin a
stolen green badge of immortality, which makes Joaquin pretty formidable in
he earns the reputation as a fierce warrior, but he’s actually become a
self-involved egotist, despite professing his love for Maria.
This colorful tale is told by a
museum curator named Mary Beth (the voice of Christina Applegate), to a
gathering of small children who become completely enthralled with her
“Book of Life,” from which these stories come, and Mary Beth assures
them, all stories come.
Then, at the end, she encourages them to go
live their own story.
Though “The Book of Life”
sounds complicated, and somewhat dark, the basic love triangle gives it a
plot center, and then we get to have fun with cutesy songs and humorous
backup choruses and all manner of animated playfulness.
Some of the “bogeymen” may be intense for
very small children (there were some little criers in my theater), but
overall, a cross-cultural delight for any age.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the
Parish Associate, Woodhaven Presbyterian Church,