October 28, 2014 -- This colorful animated film celebrates the Mexican culture with a lot of pizzazz. It gives us a view into a very different world view about the nature of life and death, particularly in its depiction of the three day, Day of the Dead ceremonies (October 31, November 1 and November 2, All Hallows' Eve or Halloween, Hallowmas, and All Souls' Day). This is a very bright and beguiling fantasy.
This is a story about a beautiful girl, Maria, who is loved by two boys, Manolo and Joaquin, who compete for her hand. It is also about two spirits who rule the afterlife, La Muerte, who reigns over the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, who rules the Land of the Forgotten. The Land of the Remembered is a place of celebration and The Land of the Forgotten is a sad place. Those who live in the Land of the Remembered remain there until everyone who is living forgets them. Those who do great deeds will always be remembered and remain in the Land of the Remembered forever. Xibalba is tired of Land of the Forgotten and covets the Land of the Remembered.
Xibalba makes a bet with La Muerte over which of the two boys will win the hand of the fair Maria. If he wins the bet, he wins control of The Land of the Remembered. Manolo Sanchez is from a long line of bull fighters, but he wants to be a musician. Joaquin's father was a brave soldier who died at the hands of a powerful bandit, Chakal. Joaquin follows in his father's footsteps and becomes a heroic soldier, while Manolo chafes under his father's insistence that he fight bulls. He loves music and doesn't want to kill the bulls in the ring. He finally rebels. Joaquin and Manolo are best friends, but the competition for Maria puts a strain on their friendship.
The quest becomes epic, a journey through life and death, a great battle with the feared bandit, Chakal, bull fights and a conflict between Xibalba and La Muerte. The artwork in this animated film is very colorful and exaggerated. Chakal and the bull, for instance are exaggerated to increase the idea that they are gigantic and menacing. Facial features in some characters are greatly exaggerated, such as the features of Chakal and Manolo's father.
Some of the characters, such as Manolo's grandparents, are both interesting and amusing. Although my description of it sounds heavy, this is essentially a lighthearted and joyous film with plenty of humor and music. Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams wrote songs for the film, which includes traditional music, such as “Cielito Lindo” and pop music, such as Ennio Morricone's “The Ecstasy of Gold,” first heard in the film, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” and the hit song by Elvis, “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You.” This film rates a B.
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