Entertainment

‘The Book Of Life:’ Looking Back At The ‘Other’ Día De Los Muertos Movie That Is Also Awesome

Sometimes two movies of a very particular theme come out within a few years and, sadly, one of them sort of overshadows the other. Pixar’s “Bug’s Life,” for example, became the epitome of insect kids movies and the very smart and very funny “Antz” from DreamWorks, has been sort of forgotten. 

This is the case with the two Day of the Dead films to come out of major American studios. Yes, almost everyone remembers Pixar’s amazing “Coco”, but fewer in mainstream audiences hold the same place for Twentieth Century Fox’s “The Book of Life.” They are both amazing films that, surprisingly for a Hollywood production, respect Mexican traditions and do their homework to avoid cultural appropriation. Of course, there are some stereotypes and twisted facts when it comes to history and Mexican lore. 

1. “The Book of Life” was released in 2014, three years before “Coco” hit the screens.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

In fact, it could be argued that “The Book of Life” prepared the ground for “Coco” to be a success. Us Latinos are used to traditions involving the dead, but not many international markets are. Day of the Dead might seem “weird” or “creepy” for some cultures that are less used to dealing with the afterlife. 

2. The film was produced by Oscar-winner Guillermo Del Toro, the wonderful Mexican director.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

And well, we know that he has high respect, and even reverence, for tradition. The director oversaw every aspect of the production and we can see his imagination permeate some of the shots in the colorful, joyous movie. 

3. Yeah, yeah, but what is the movie about?

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

The movie follows Manolo, a man who has to follow his own path in life even if this goes against his family tradition. This adventure takes him in three realms of reality, or worlds, in which he encounters the mysteries of life and death. Does it sound a little bit like “Coco” to you? Yeah, it kinda does eh? Well, but Manolo is an adult and of course, there is a damsel in the picture. 

4. The film was going to be called simply “Day of the Dead.” “El Matador” was also considered.

Oh, man, they really dodged a bullet. If they had called the movie “The Matador” we can only imagine the many rightful protests that animal rights organizations would have staged. And, to be honest, “The Book of Life” really celebrates the meaning of Day of the Dead: it is a celebration of past and present lived experiences. 

5. The movie starts in the best place for any kid’s movie to begin… 

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

Yes, the story is told through a magical book found in a museum. What a good lesson for los chiquitos. 

6. And the music!

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

When you got an Oscar winner and the musical baggage of Mexico to score a film, chances are the results will be pretty spectacular. As The Saturday Star reported back in 2015: “Besides the original score and songs by two-time Oscar winner Gustavo Santaolalla (Brokeback Mountain, Babel) and veteran songwriter Paul Williams, there are fun, mariachi-flavored versions of pop hits like Mumford and Sons'”I Will Wait,” Radiohead’s “Creep,” and Rod Stewart’s “Do You Think I’m Sexy?” Yes, that is right, a mariachi version of “Creep.”

7. But the plot is much more than adventure, it is an ancient predicament.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

The scriptwriters had to be super cautious with respecting tradition, so they came up with a new very interesting mythology. As The Independent summed up when the film was released, the story is pretty creative: “The plot is set in motion by squabbling married gods La Muerta (Kate del Castillo) and Xibabla (del Toro regular Ron Perlman), who make a wager as to which of the two men Maria will choose. Meanwhile, the Land of the Living is beset by the villainous monster Chakal (Dan Navarro) and his gang of bandits. Acerbically commenting on the proceedings from the sidelines is the whiskered, elderly Grandma, hilariously voiced by Grey Griffin.” Kate del Castillo fighting Ron Perlman? Yes, please! Woman power!

8. Critics just adored the animation and the magical world created on the screen.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

The 3D visuals just pop with color and we can almost smell the copal and the flowers. The Satellite critic judged when the film was released: “The unique and mesmerizing animation is unlike any other film of recent memory and its quick wit makes it genuinely funnier than most major comedies”. And he found it sad that the film risked being ignored: “As we close the book on another school holiday, The Book of Life may fly under the radar of most moviegoers, especially with its late release and the loud roar of engines bursting through the walls of surrounding cinemas”. 

9. So yes, Ron Perlman collaborated with Guillermo Del Toro once again.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

What an amazing creative pair. The “Hellboy” actor voiced Xibalba, an ancient indigenous spirit. He is big and amazing, just like Perlman, one of Del Toro’s most trusted collaborators and who acted in the director’s first feature film, “Cronos,” when young Guillermo was unknown. 

10. The movie shows a strong female lead.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

Yes, the backbone of the film is the decision that Maria will take in terms of her romantic life. This might seem a bit macho at first, but you gotta see the film to realize that she is so much more than a damsel in distress.

11. The voice talent is amazing, like a Walk of Fame in a movie.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

Our very own Kate Del Castillo, Zoe Saldana, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Danny Trejo, Channing Tatum and even the Spanish opera superstar Placido Domingo. Seriously, the voice talent by itself is a monument, an ode to diversity. That’s how it is done, mijos. 

12. Director Jorge R. Gutierrez draws from various visual traditions.

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

What makes this film so special is the number of influences that the director is able to conjure in the festive final product. Jake Wilson, from The Sydney Morning Herald, was super impressed: “Gutierrez’s style is colorful, even freakish: he draws from Mexican folk art, but also from Cubism, stop-motion animation – The Nightmare Before Christmas is a clear inspiration – and underground cartooning. Though the characters have a limited expressive range, their stiffness is given a neat rationale: they’re imagined as intricately carved wooden puppets, with visible joints, big blocky bodies, and spindly legs”. Yes, you can stop the film in any frame and just be impressed by the craftsmanship. 

13. And of course, the characters have gotten their own Funko Pops!

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

Yes, this is proof that they have broken into mainstream popular culture. 

14. Will there be a sequel?

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

It certainly seems so! In 2017 Gutierrez announced that a second film was under development. But let’s remember that they take years to be produced due to the complexity of the art.

15. In the meantime, here’s a wonderful padre-hija duo

Credit: the_book_of_life_manolo_sanchez. Digital image. Costume Works

Can we get a collective “Ay, cositos”?

16. But did “Coco” monopolize Day of the Dead culture?

Credit: The Book of Life / Twentieth Century Fox

No! Why can European folktales have multiple film versions and Global South traditions can’t? The more the merrier!

17. There is some pretty awesome fan art out there, in case you were wondering.

It is clear that “Coco” might be the most commercially successful telling of Día de los Muertos, however, “Book of Life” is one we all remember and love.

READ: Netflix Is Bringing Latinidad To The Fantasy Realm And LOTR Fans Gear Up

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Nickelodeon Is Expanding ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Into An Entire Universe, Complete With An Upcoming Film

Entertainment

Nickelodeon Is Expanding ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Into An Entire Universe, Complete With An Upcoming Film

The Avatarverse is back to the rescue!

The animated series brought to fans by Nickelodeon is officially being expanded into Avatar Studio, a new division planning to create original content related to the world’s first seen in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra. Nickelodeon announced on Wednesday during ViacomCBS’ Investor Day presentation that the show’s original creators and executive producers Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko will pave the way.

Avatar Studio has big plans for its universe.

Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko will lead the new studio as co-chief creative officers. Fortunately, they already have a project in the works. The new project is an animated theatrical film that will kick off production this year.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years since we created Avatar: The Last Airbender,” DiMartino and Konietzko said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly. “But even after all that time, there are still many stories and time periods in Aang’s world that we are eager to bring to life. We are fortunate to have an ever-growing community of passionate fans that enjoys exploring the Avatarverse as much as we do.”

“And with this new Avatar Studios venture we have an unparalleled opportunity to develop our franchise and its storytelling on a vast scale, in myriad exciting ways and mediums,” they added. “We are exceedingly grateful to [Nickelodeon president] Brian Robbins and [president of Nickelodeon Animation] Ramsey Naito for their enthusiasm and respect for the Avatar property and us as its stewards. From the start, they’ve supported our ambitious plans and created a positive, proactive environment for us.”

“We’re excited to be back at Nickelodeon where Avatar began, doing what we do best in the biggest way possible,” the finished. “We can’t wait to build the great teams and productions to make all of this fantasy a reality.”

Avatar The Last Airbender, ran on Nickelodeon from 2005 to 2008 and followed the quest of a young monk named Aang to master his powers and save the world. The show was an Emmy- and Peabody-winning series loved by fans for its storytelling and world-building which were heavily influenced by Asian and Indigenous cultures. In 2012 it inspired the series The Legend of Korra.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the studio’s projects will debut on Paramount+, ViacomCBS’ subscription video on-demand service as well as in theaters.

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President Trump Declares Día de Muertos a ‘National Remembrance Day’ For Americans ‘Killed By Illegal Aliens’

Things That Matter

President Trump Declares Día de Muertos a ‘National Remembrance Day’ For Americans ‘Killed By Illegal Aliens’

Photo: PEDRO PARDO/AFP via Getty Images

On October 30th, President Donald Trump released a memo declaring November 1st a “National Day of Remembrance for Americans Killed By Illegal Aliens”.

Almost immediately, Latinos recognized that Trump’s “day of remembrance” directly coincided with another significant day of remembrance–Dia de Muertos.

The proclamation stated that the purpose of the rememberance day was to honor the lives of Americans who were “so egregiously taken from us by criminal illegal aliens.” It continued: “As sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and as American citizens, these precious lives are an irreplaceable piece of our national community.”

Trump concluded the statement by saying that we “recommit to ensuring that those responsible for these tragedies face justice, while taking every action to prevent these horrific acts from occurring in our Nation.”

Naturally, many Americans saw this as a direct slap in the face to Latinos who celebrate Dia de Muertos on the same day.

It is no secret that Trump has openly derided Mexican immigrants on multiple occasions, calling them “drug dealers”, “criminals”, “rapists”, and “bad hombres”.

Throughout his term, he has sought to limit all forms of immigration from the Southern border–even asylum seekers. His reasoning is that immigrants from Mexico are violent and dangerous, but statistics paint a different story. Studies have shown that crime rates are actually lower among immigrants than they are among native-born Americans.

This type of cultural insensitivity reminds is reminiscent of Trump’s Oklahoma campaign rally over the summer. As a refresher, Trump held the rally in Tulsa on June 11th–also known as Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating the emancipation of Black Americans from slavery. The fact that the rally was held in Tulsa also added insult to injury. Tulsa is the infamous site of the Tulsa Race Massacre, where jealous white Americans slaughtered residents of Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street” en masse. Either Trump didn’t do his homework, or he was blatantly inflaming historical racial wounds. Either way, the decision was thoughtless.

Of course, many people on Twitter were shocked and appalled by Trump’s ‘National Remembrance Day’ proclamation.

This proclamation reeks of blatant race-baiting and overall disrespect for this deeply sentimental Latin American tradition.

This Latina doesn’t seem to be convinced that the date Trump chose for this “Remembrance Day” was coincidental.

The anti-Latino sentiment coming from Trump is undeniable this time.

This Twitter user couldn’t help but point out the hypocrisy of calling certain immigrants “illegal” when the OG illegal immigrants were white colonizers.

Where is the remembrance day for the millions of Indigenous people killed by European colonizers? Or the millions of Africans who were stolen from their ancestral homes and forced into slavery?

This Twitter user pointed out the statistical disparity between Americans killed by “illegal aliens” and those killed by COVID-19.

We wish Donald Trump would’ve used this same energy when it came to containing and controlling the spread of the coronavirus across the United States at the beginning of this year.

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