Film and Plot Synopsis
In The Book of Life, Mary Beth is a museum tour guide who takes a group of school detention students on a secret museum tour. Using wooden figures, she tells them the story of a Mexican town called San Angel from the Book of Life, which holds every story in the world. On the Day of the Dead, La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, spot Manolo Sanchez and Joaquin Mondragon competing over Maria Posada. They strike a wager; if Maria marries Manolo, Xibalba will no longer interfere in mortal affairs, but if she marries Joaquin, La Muerte and Xibalba must swap realms.
Buy the Film
‘The Book of Life’ Movie Summary
As she does, an old security guard appears to give the kids a quick scare. Mary Beth smiles and continues on. She eventually stops in a large hall adorned with many traditional Mexican skulls and art. In the middle sits the magical Book of Life which holds the story of how the ways of their world were once shaped. She opens a box of dolls that represent the characters of the story, and this is their tale…
Once there were two gods; La Muerte (Kate Del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered where the spirits live on as long as their loved ones remember them in the land of the living; and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, where the forgotten souls decay into oblivion.
While these two spirits watch over the town of San Angel, they spot three young children playing; Manolo (Emil-Bastien Bouffard), Maria (Genesis Ochoa), and Joaquin (Elias Garza). Both boys are head over heels in love with Maria, but the girl is quite independent and does want anyone to control her. Manolo comes from a long line of dead bullfighters, and while his father wants him to be one as well, Manolo just wants to be a musician. Joaquin is the brave adventurer, and hopes to one day avenge his father after the sinister the Bandit King Chakal (Dan Navarro) killed him.
As the two watch the boys compete for Maria, Xibalba bets La Muerte that Maria will end up marrying Joaquin. La Muerte disagrees and bets Manolo will. The two decide the winner will be allowed to rule over the Land of the Remembered. Once agreed, they disguise themselves as peasants, and go down to San Angel during their celebration of the Day of the Dead.
At the cemetery, Manolo and his father, Carlos Sanchez (Hector Elizondo), remember Manolo’s mother, Carmen. La Muerte, disguised as an old woman, asks Manolo for a piece of bread. He selfishly gives her a whole loaf. Xibalba, disguised as an old man, asks Joaquin for some, but he replies the bread is for his heroic father. To bribe him for the bread, Xibalba gives Joaquin a medal called the Medal of Everlasting Life; something Chakal desires because it can protect him from death.
The next day, the ever-spirited Maria sets group of animals free after seeing a cute baby pig at a butcher’s shop. The animals, along with Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin, run to the town square where they cause all sorts of chaos; much to the chagrin of Maria’s father, General Posada (Carlos Alazraqui).
Then a wild boar comes stomping after them, and nearly takes down Posada. However, Joaquin steps up to distract it; only to find that medal does protect him. Manolo then lures the boar away like a bullfighter using a red cape. The boar crashes into a wall, and the threat is no more. However, Posada didn’t see anything in the commotion, thinks Joaquin was the one that saved him; ignoring Manolo completely.
Angry with Maria’s insubordination and wild spirit, Posada sends Maria to a private boarding school far away in Spain where she will be gone for years. She sadly leaves her two friends and the town behind. Manolo gives her the baby pig, which he named Chuy, that she saved from the butcher’s shop. Maria gives him a guitar after his old one broke from the town square melee. She had it engraved with the words “Always play from your heart.”
Years pass and Carlos mentors Manolo (now Diego Luna) into becoming a skilled bullfighter which will make the family proud. Joaquin (now Channing Tatum) conquers many enemies to become the town’s hero (having that medal helps him a lot).
Finally, the day comes when Maria (now Zoe Saldana) returns home. Her father plans to hold a big celebration in town later that night, but first, Manolo is to fight a bull for the first time ever; even though he still has many reservations over killing it. Maria arrives and takes her seat next to her father and Joaquin. Her stunning beauty enchants the men, and angers the ladies. Manolo and Joaquin are just as much in love with her as the day she left.
The bullfight begins, and Manolo’s skills delight the crowd. Finally, after it crashes into the wall, Carlos knows his son has defeated it. He yells at Manolo to kill it, but he refuses. Grandma Sanchez knew he wouldn’t be able to do it, and everybody in the bullring boos him for it except for Maria. She applauds him for his compassion, and even adores him for it. Manolo gets a guitar to the head for his troubles; knocking him out. When he comes to, his father expresses his deep disappointment in the young man, and says he’s not a real Sanchez.
General Posada then holds his party for Maria. Joaquin boasts that Maria should be with him because he can make her happy. Maria is not enchanted with this attitude, and leaves. Meanwhile, Manolo and his Mariachi band comprised of the Rodriguez brothers (Gabriel Iglesias, Cheech Marin, and Ricardo Sanchez) decide to serenade her outside her home. It seems everyone in town was invited to the party except Manolo so he has to stay outside.
The Keystone Kompadres play some terrible non-Mexican songs; none of which impress Maria or her pig, Chuy. Instead, Manolo serenades her with a song from his heart, which moves not only Maria, but the gathering townspeople who hear it. The brothers form a ladder to bring Manolo up to Maria’s balcony so they may kiss, but she stops that from happening. It’s not going to be that easy. He falls to Earth as she grabs his guitar, and tells him to come inside.
Before he can, Joaquin is there, and proposes marriage to Maria in front of her father. He claims the only way he will stay in town is if she will marry him. The only way to protect San Angel from Chakal and his bandits is Joaquin’s bravery (and that medal) so marrying him is the town’s best option. Love has nothing to do with it; she’s nothing more than his greatest conquest.
Before she replies, Manolo enters and he and Joaquin fight over Maria like the little boys they once were. Maria thinks they are foolish, and leaves. Later, Manolo shows up and asks Maria to meet him at dawn. She agrees. Knowing he will lose the bet if she goes, Xibalba turns his staff into a snake and sends it after Manolo.
At dawn, Maria follows a trail of candles to a tree where Manolo is waiting. He professes his love to her, which she reciprocates. However, the snake arrives and slithers up to Manolo. Maria pushes him out of the way, and the snake bites her instead. She dies instantly. Manolo screams in sorrow before carrying her body back to San Angel. At the dock, both Joaquin and General Posada show up. The General blames Manolo for his daughter’s death.
Despondent and heartbroken, Manolo returns to the tree. A delighted Xibalba appears before him, and Manolo tells him that he will do anything to be with Maria again. So, Xibalba transforms his staff to form a two-headed snake. Both ends bite Manolo, and he dies.
Manolo’s spirit enters the Land of the Remembered—now as a skeleton. The vibrant realm has the deceased spirits that the living world still remembers. The Land of the Remembered Captain (Miguel Sandoval) reunites Manolo with his ancestral family, including Carmelo (Jorge R. Gutierrez), who never used capes to fight; Jorge (Placido Domingo), who fought with one arm and leg (and is a skilled singer); and Luis (Danny Trejo), Manolo’s grandfather who is upset with Manolo for dying so soon. Manolo then meets his mother Carmen (Ana de la Reguera). While she’s delighted to see her son, she’s not happy that he is there so soon either.
They take Manolo to La Muerte’s castle so he can reunite with Maria, but they find Xibalba there instead. He delightedly explains that the snake bite only put Maria to sleep—it takes two bites from the snake to kill a person like the two Manolo suffered. Joaquin brought her out of her trance using his special medal. She’s awake and well in the Land of the Living; albeit quite sad as they told her Manolo is now dead himself. With the terms of the bet out of the bag, Xibalba’s cheating enrages Manolo. He vows to tell La Muerte what Xibalba did, and to return to the living world to get his woman.
Manolo, Carmen, and Luis learn they must travel to the Cave of Souls to make it to the Land of the Forgotten if they wish to meet with La Muerte. On the way there, Manolo has solve the Cave Guardian’s (Eric Bauza) labyrinth with three large boulders rolling around to crush him. Manolo manages to evade all of them; much to the Guardian’s surprise. He swings a huge sword upon Manolo for one final test of worthiness. When it shatters around him, the Guardian realizes he is pure of heart, and allows Manolo and his family to pass.
They next meet the Candle Maker (Ice Cube), who oversees the lives of everybody in the living world. Manolo asks him to take him to the Land of the Forgotten to meet La Muerte. The Candle Maker only agrees after seeing that Manolo’s story has yet to be written in the Book of Life.
In The Land of the Forgotten, Manolo, Carmen, and Luis see lost spirits decay and wither away. When they make it to Xibalba’s castle, they find La Muerte. She’s surprised to see Manolo, and he tells her that he knows about the bet and that Xibalba cheated. This sends La Muerte into a rage. She summons her husband before chastising him for another betrayal.
When Xibalba refuses to bring Manolo back to the living world, Manolo offers him a little bet of his own. If he wins, Xibalba must let him return to the livng world (La Muerte adds that he may never interfere with the affairs of the living ever again). If he loses, Xibalba may rule over both realms. They all agree, and Xibalba searches Manolo’s soul to decide what the bet will be about. He quickly finds it, and tells Manolo that he must face off against every bull that his family has ever fought.
Back in the living world, Chakal’s bandits have learned that Joaquin has the Medal of Everlasting Life. Now, Chakal is on the march to San Angel, just as Maria and Joaquin are about to marry. Carlos tries to slow Chakal and his men down, but Chakal quickly kills him. His spirit joins his family to watch Manolo fight. Chakal arrives in town; halting the wedding before the the two wed. Joaquin runs off to get his medal which is in another suit, and then goes to fight Chakal.
Meanwhile, Manolo takes on 1000 bulls from his family’s past. He does well, but eventually they form into one giant bull. Not able to beat it, Manolo decides not to fight it, but to always follow his heart. Manolo sings it a song to apologize for all the wrongs his family has brought to them. As the giant bull charges as him, he keeps singing the apology. His words calm the bull down, and it stops inches from hitting Manolo; surprising the men in his family because a Sanchez NEVER apologizes.
Playing from his heart allows Manolo to win the bet. Xibalba grants him his life back as La Muerte looks on. He returns to the living world just in time to help fight Chakal, who has by now revealed Joaquin to be a fraud due to the medal he holds… well held as Chakal knocked it off Joaquin pretty quickly in their fight, and everyone is now trying to get it back.
La Muerte, Xibalba, and the Candle Maker decide, since it is the Day of the Dead, all of Manolo’s deceased family may help fight against Chakal, and they appear alonside Manolo. Maria inspires the whole town to fight back as Manolo and Joaquin make amends. They will fight against Chakal together as well.
Chakal grabs Maria, and climbs tto he top of the town’s tower. The dead Sanchez men toss Manolo up there as well to face off against Chakal. Both he and Maria fight the bandit, and eventually knock him off the tower. This also sends them to the ground as well, but they land safely because it’s their story.
Chakal, knowing he can’t win, then decides to kill himself and take the whole town with him. He lights up the bombs on his belts as everyone shudders. Manolo and Joaquin push Chakal under the fallen bell from the tower and tie him up. Manolo tells Maria not to forget him, and knocks over a column to bring the bell down on him and Chakal; trapping them both in it.
The bombs goes boom!
Chakal and apparently Manolo immediately die. However, Manolo emerges safely; much to his and Maria’s surprise. However, not to Joaquin’s surprise because he put the Medal of Everlasting Life on his back to save him. It’s only now that Joaquin now realizes a true hero is selfless.
With the town safe, General Posada gives Manolo his blessing to marry Maria, and the two wed. Manolo and Maria then sing a happy song, and dance with everybody in the wedding party. Xibalba apologizes to La Muerte for betraying her, and tells her that he loves her. The two share a passionate kiss.
Back at the museum, Mary Beth ends the story as it’s now time for the children to leave. As the bus begins to depart, the kids wave goodbye to Mary Beth, who takes the form of La Muerte; much to their delight. The old security guard transforms into Xibalba, and the two kiss again.
The story ends with the Candle Maker closing the Book of Life, and giving a final reminder to us all to write our own stories.
Additional Film Information
- Add the film to your collection today!
- The Book of Life official website
- Peruse IMDb’s article on The Book of Life
- Learn more The Book of Life information at Wikipedia
- Get The Book of Life numbers at Box Office Mojo
- Find out what people think about The Book of Life at Metacritic
- Read The Book of Life reviews from the folks at Rotten Tomatoes