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

RIP That Time Disney Tried To Trademark Día de los Muertos

Entertainment

RIP That Time Disney Tried To Trademark Día de los Muertos

shot_by_prum_ty / Instagram

Since Disney Plus launched on November 12, people have been swept up in all the family-friendly chaos, indulging in a long list of classic Disney favorites. While the streaming service also plans to offer new original content, the company is definitely taking advantage of our generation’s lust for nostalgia, providing exclusive access to the Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and National Geographic franchises (and reminding us how much Disney dominated our youth with films like The Lion King, The Cheetah Girls, and Gotta Kick It Up). Honestly, the list of iconic feel-good films is outrageously long, and it’s easy to understand why everyone’s so excited.

But it’s no secret that Disney’s wholesome image has been blemished by a long, varied history of controversy and criticism. While Disney has been accused of sexism and plagiarism numerous times, one of the most notable topics of discussion in recent years has been the company’s tendency to racially stereotype its characters, a propensity that is  especially notable in early Disney films (though many scholars and film critics argue that this has carried into the 21st century, despite Disney’s attempts to be more culturally sensitive).

On many occasions, Disney has acknowledged the racist nature of its older animated films, like Dumbo, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats. In the descriptions for several programs on Disney Plus, there is a brief warning about the “outdated cultural stereotypes” contained within each film, and while several people view this disclaimer as a sign of progress, Disney has been criticized for making a bare minimum effort toward addressing the problematic elements of its past.

And speaking of the company’s past, how could we forget the time that Disney tried to trademark the term “Día de los Muertos” / “Day of the Dead”?

Credit: Pinterest / The Walt Disney Company

Back in 2013, Disney approached the US Patent and Trademark Office with a request to secure “Día de los Muertos” / “Day of the Dead” across many different platforms. At the time, an upcoming Pixar movie with a Día de los Muertos theme (read: the early stirrings of Coco) was in the works, and Disney wanted to print the phrase on a wide range of products, from fruit snacks to toys to cosmetics. Por supuesto, Disney received major backlash for trying to trademark the name of a holiday—what is more culturally appropriative than claiming ownership over an entire celebration? Especially one with indigenous roots?

“The trademark intended to protect any potential title of the movie or related activity,” a spokeswoman for Disney told CNNMexico at the time. “Since then, it has been determined that the title of the film will change, and therefore we are withdrawing our application for trademark registration.”

But prior to withdrawing their application, Disney received extensive backlash from the Latnix community. Latinos all over social media expressed their disdain for Disney’s bold and offensive attempt to take ownership of the holiday’s name, even starting a petition on Change.org to halt the whole process. Within just a few days, the petition had garnered 21,000 signatures.

Although Disney didn’t acknowledge whether the online uproar had influenced them to retract their trademark request, they were clearly paying attention. Lalo Alcaraz, a Mexican-American editorial cartoonist, had expressed open disdain at what he called Disney’s “blunder,” creating “Muerto Mouse”—a cartoon criticizing said blunder—in response.

Credit: Lalo Alcaraz / Pocho.com

This wasn’t the first time Alcaraz had criticized Disney with his cartoons. After the trademark fiasco, Disney definitely caught wind of Alcaraz’s position, and in an effort to approach the upcoming Día de los Muertos movie with sensitivity, the company hired him to work as a cultural consultant on the film.

Although several folks celebrated this development, Alcaraz was widely denounced for collaborating with Disney—many people called him a “vendido,” accusing him of hypocritically selling out to the gringo-run monolith against which he had previously spoken out. But Alcaraz stood his ground, confident that his perspective would lend valuable influence to the movie and ultimately prevent Pixar from doing the Latinx community a disservice.

“Instead of suing me, I got Pixar to give me money to help them and do this project right,” Alcaraz said. “I was let down because I was hoping people would give me a little bit of credit for the stuff I’ve done; to give me the benefit of the doubt.”

And, sin duda, Coco emerged as one of the most culturally accurate films that Disney has ever produced. Employing an almost exclusively Latino cast and crew, Coco seamlessly captured the beauty, magic, and wonder of Día de los Muertos, depicting the holiday with reverence and respect. And after becoming the top-grossing film of all time in Mexico, it’s safe to say that Coco helped Disney bounce back from its trademark mishap, even if more controversy is bound to emerge in the future.

Mexico City’s Annual Día De Muertos Night Bike Ride Broke Records And It Looked Incredible

Culture

Mexico City’s Annual Día De Muertos Night Bike Ride Broke Records And It Looked Incredible

Omgitsjustintime / Instagram

Dia de Muertos may have officially happened over a week ago (it takes place from November 1-2), however, that isn’t stopping Mexicans from celebrating.

Sure, Mexico City had its massive Desfile de Día de Muertos last weekend and the incredible Mega Procesión de Las Catrinas on the weekend before but this weekend the celebrations continued. And this time, it took place in the form of a massive nighttime bike ride through the city’s most busy boulevards.

Mexico City’s Dia de Muertos night bike ride broke records with nearly 150,000 people coming out to celebrate.

A record 147,500 people took part in the annual Day of the Dead night bike right held Saturday in Mexico City, according to the city’s transportation secretary.

Riders showed up in elaborate costumes and disguises and completed an 18-kilometer route (about 11 miles) along the city’s famed Paseo de la Reforma. The route took the riders through some of the city’s most popular districts and along some of its most popular monuments. The ride then ended in the historic center of the capital city.

A costume contest at the Angel of Independence monument, live music at different locations and the screening of short films promoting the use of sustainable transportation at Plaza Tlaxcoaque complemented the bicycle outing.

Families and even their pets participated in the 11-mile ride.

Mexico City Transportation Secretary Andrés Lajous, who participated in the ride, told the newspaper El Sol de México that one of the most gratifying aspects of the event was to see young children enjoying their city at night. Many families took part including some that took their pets along for the ride, which took place between 9:00 and 11:00pm.

As violence continues to rack Mexico, events like this show highlight the positive events and moments in a country battling rampant drug violence. For many, the event offered a sense of pride as they were able to enjoy their city by night.

The night bike ride was just the latest in a series of major events in the city to celebrate Dia de Muertos.

For many, Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is synonymous with sugar skulls and elaborate ‘Catrina’ face painting. In reality, it’s a two-day festivity that lights up Mexico with colors, flowers, candles and a seemingly omnipresent joy.

Every year, on November 1st and 2nd, Mexicans take part in the adored demonstration of love and respect for their deceased relatives. And though the country’s capital is full of cemeteries to celebrate, plazas decorated in beautiful ‘ofrendas’ and lots of ‘pan de muerto’ weeks before the celebration, there’s one special day in CDMX when visitors will get to see a huge group of beautifully decorated Catrinas walk down the street in a parade celebrating life and death.

This year marked the 6th year that the parade took place. And more than 150 thousand people participated despite cool and rainy weather. Plus, there were nearly 200 professional makeup artists getting everyone looking like the famous ‘Calavera Catrina.’

However, not everyone was able to enjoy their night as some complained of police brutality.

While the vast majority of participants had an enjoyable and safe night, one young woman said that she and other cyclists were attacked by at least 20 police officers late on Saturday.

Twitter user @malitriushka said that after Reforma avenue reopened to traffic at about 11:00pm, the safety of cyclists riding on the road was threatened by an aggressively-driven Metrobús.

The woman said that she and other cyclists approached police to ask for assistance but were beaten and accused of theft. “As a cyclist, as a woman, I saw the situation and decided to help. Now I have fractures and am accused of theft,” she wrote on Twitter. “They beat me and with false testimony they say I stole a hat,” the woman said in another post.

She also said that her boyfriend and three other people were detained by police and that their cell phones, which had recorded the incident, were confiscated.