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This movie attempts to give viewers a glimpse of Mexican folklore with a story imaginatively told as a puppet show for a class at a museum field trip. The story regards a wager between the goddess La Muerte and the god Xibalba over which of two small boys will grow up to marry the girl they both love. Maria is definitely special. She is headstrong, witty, courageous, talented and believes in righteousness. When she is forced to leave for schooling abroad, each boy works hard to become the man that they feel she deserves. Joaquin obtains the “Medal of Everlasting Life” and uses it to cheat his way into the appearance of a hero. Manolo, struggles between his family duty to become a bullfighter (like each of his ancestors before him), and his own personal passion to play music from his heart. His greatest difficulty in bullfighting lies in the fact that at the conclusion of a bullfighting show, the bullfighter is supposed to kill the bull he is fighting. Manolo believes this to be wrong, and refuses to do it, thus creating a great deal of anger in his father. When Maria returns home at the completion of her schooling, Manolo and Joaquin compete for her hand. A village under siege by bandits, along with the interference of Xibalba make this not only a competition for Maria’s hand, but a re-examination of the word, “hero”.
This story has several lessons to heed during the process of growing up, but they all revolve around the idea of being true to yourself. First of all, follow your true passion and listen to your heart. Don’t try to be exactly like your parents. You are not them; you are you. Do what you believe to be RIGHT as opposed to what others expect of you. If the time has come for a tradition to change, then don’t be afraid to be the first to change it. Have respect for other people and who they are inside, regardless of how they look, or what tradition expects of them. Finally, a true hero does not arise from strength and shows of bravery, but from truly putting other’s needs above their own.
(If you have additional ideas on how this film can be used for educational purposes, please let us know in the comments below.)
Mary Beth: “Follow me, you need to see something special. All the world is made of stories and all of those stories are right here in The Book of Life. But the greatest story begins on the Day of the Dead, a day when spirits pass between worlds and anything can happen.”
La Muerte: The world keeps spinning, and the tales keep turning, and people come and people go, but they’re never forgotten. And the one truth we know, it held true one more time… That love, true love, the really, really good kind of love never dies.
Candlemaker: Write your own story.