My husband and I snagged the cartoon movie, The Book of Life as a fluffy family flick for Family Movie Night. I admit, with most cartoon movies, I hold the lowest of expectations; there are a WHOLE lot of disappointing films out there. Films which could have been really good, but the writers generally had the comedic range of an elementary-aged school-boy. As we popped in the DVD, I prepared myself for a few hours of fart jokes and adult innuendo, with lots of bright colors for the kids. But the experience was surprising.
The central plot of The Book of Life is between three childhood friends: Manolo, Joaquin, and Maria. From their childhood, both boys pine for the beautiful and spirited girl and naturally, they all evolve into stunning, perfectly-formed adults. But, the most stereotypical of all rom-com tropes, the Love-Triangle, was not so stereotypical in this movie. The love which the characters felt was deeply affected, in a way, from their upbringing, especially in the case of Manolo. The relationship with his father is strained, due to the Father’s dreams of his son becoming a legendary bull-fighter.
Through the themes of the Mexican celebration, “Day of the Dead,” we are also introduced to Manolo’s ancestors, all of which were proud bull-fighters. As he comes to meet various ancestors, he learns that most of them had other dreams in life, but carried on the family tradition of bull-fighting. And this struck me. Most struggles and challenges portrayed in movies and other media are always: parent versus child. But it’s deeper than that. Manolo’s father was obstinate about bull-fighting because it had been drilled into his head by his father, who was indoctrinated by his father, and on and on the system moved through the family tree. This movie depicted the unknown influence our ancestors have on us, the living. Not only do we carry the mysterious genetics of people we’ve never met, but we might be passing on their traditions, beliefs, mannerisms, even their psychological disposition without realizing the effect it has had on an entire family line!
The other characters also had the pressure of living up to their family’s standards, and I found myself deeply contemplating my own role as a parent. Deep thoughts I was not expecting to have from a cartoon, whose trailer showed an obese mariachi band belting the Rod Stewart lyrics, “If you want my body, and you think I’m sexy, come on baby let me know!” But the thoughts came. Am I raising my kids with detrimental expectations? How is my parenting affected by the way my parents raised me and how were my parents affected by their parents? Are my children destined to be bitten by metaphorical snakes and die (metaphorically) because they are afraid they aren’t living up to what they believe I expect from them?!?
Despite the aneurysm I was trying to conjure by over-thinking my parenting abilities, The Book of Life was able to portray the most beautiful message of all: love. Not the romantic kind, but the kind of love that goes beyond the grave and ties you to a line of imperfect human beings. The love that enables you to forgive those who raised you with piles of unintentional baggage. The kind of love that sacrifices, that puts others first. It was a message that made me want to scoop my children up and tell them I loved them because they were precious, and not because they were ticking off a list of accomplishments. It made me want to learn more about my family line and see what kind of hereditary cocktail is swirling around in our gene pool. And, thankfully, its message made me believe my children will forgive me for the baggage I inadvertently dump on them. I never would have thought that a movie starring the guy from Magic Mike could be such a wonderful experience for my entire family. But it was magic.