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

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.

As ‘Coco’ Hits The Hollywood Bowl So Does The Work Of Chicana Altarista, Ofelia Esparza

Culture

As ‘Coco’ Hits The Hollywood Bowl So Does The Work Of Chicana Altarista, Ofelia Esparza

Javier Rojas / mitú

This weekend is sure to be a special time at the Hollywood Bowl as Disney and Pixar’s Coco will be screening a live-to-film concert experience like no other. Stars like Miguel, Eva Longoria, and Benjamin Bratt made appearances at both screenings and the iconic film was accompanied by a full, live orchestra.

However, there was one other star making her presence felt this weekend. While she might not be taking the stage or even be known to some, she is a legend in the world of Día De Los Muertos. Meet Ofelia Esparza, who for the last 40 years she has been behind hundreds of ofrendas, or alters, honoring loved ones who have past.

Her work has been featured in some of most famous museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Japanese American National Museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, internationally at the first Day of the Dead exhibit in Glasgow, Scotland. Just last week, Esparza and her daughter, Rosanna Esparza Ahrens, had an exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington D.C.

This weekend, Esparza and Ahrens showcased a three-level ofrenda right outside of the Hollywood Bowl venue. The ofrenda greeted guests attending the showings of “Coco.”

Credit: Javier Rojas

Esparza, 86, who was born and still lives in East L.A, has devoted most of her life to creating alters. She learned many of her craft skills from her mother in Mexico and in return has passed on these traditions to her nine children. For Esparza, alter making is more than just a form of expression but an obligation that has made its way through multiple generations to honor loved ones who are now gone.

While Esparza has never met her great-great-grandmother, she knows of her through years of alter-making. Without this craft being passed down through multiple generations, she says she might have never known much about her and credits this tradition for intimately connecting her.

“My mother passed this on to me at a very young age and it always stuck with me that I have to carry on these traditions because if we don’t then who will,” Esparza said.

Using an array of photos, candles and vibrant carnations, Esparza’s alters stand out for their use of giant multilevel structures. The alters range from personal, political and even spiritual. Her work has garnered her many awards including just last year when she was recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as a 2018 National Heritage Fellow.

“I’m touched that people look at my work and want to learn more about this. It goes beyond just Día De Los Muertos but celebrating and honoring those who have past,” Esparza said. “To me that’s the biggest honor, being able to teach people about what alter making is really about.”

Esparza has followed through with many of the traditions her mother taught her at a young age and continues to pass this on. In her 40s, she became a school teacher where she included Mexican culture into her curriculum, including Dia de Los Muertos celebrations. This has included speaking at schools, museums, community centers, prisons, and parks throughout LA county and across the country.

Her expertise and passion for alters led Esparza to be a cultural consultant for “Coco.” Many of the scenes, including the famous flower bridge, were ideas that came from her.

Credit: Javier Rojas

Esparza was approached by Disney and Pixar to be a cultural consultant for the Oscar-winning film. She says that many details and scenes seen throughout the movie came from some of her feedback including the famous marigold bridge scene where ancestors cross over into the land of the living on the Day of the Dead.

“I gave them a lot of feedback on certain things including what the bridge that connects the two worlds of the living and the dead represents,” Esparza said. “It was incredible to see that come to life and for people to resonate with that message of crossing over into two worlds.”

When asked about the popularity of the film and what it means for new generations to learn about Día de Los Muertos, she says it makes her happy and only asks of one thing.

“I want people to know that Día de Los Muertos is more than just putting on some skull paint but a true honoring of those who are no longer with us.”

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