I was very lucky to have seen 'Coco' recently, and to have caught 'The Book of Life' on the telly yesterday. I had wanted to blog about 'Coco' only, but after watching 'The Book of Life', I had to write about them both.
My first impression of 'The Book of Life' was that it shared the same theme as 'Coco', and indeed, some have queried if 'Coco' is a rip-off of 'The Book of Life' (may contain spoilers), but take my word for it, my first impression was very, very wrong. Other people have compared both films extensively to explain why they are different (may contain spoilers), but to me, there is only one point to make, and that is on setting: that they are both set in Mexico is what makes them so different.
'Coco' was interesting to me because it could have been set in an East/Southeast Asian country, especially China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, or the Philippines, or a place where there are Mexican or Asian diasporas, and it would still have worked. This is because of the emphasis of 'Coco' on familial and ancestral love, and because items like the Mexican family shrine filled with photos and food can also be found in cultures from East and Southeast Asia.
'The Book of Life', however, is not like this. Given two of the main characters who are involved, this story can only function if it is set on not just any Day of the Dead, but the Mexican Day of the Dead, and because of this, it is a story that can and must only involve Mexican people/diasporas. If you were to take Mexico and Mexicans away from 'The Book of Life', it will be an entirely different film altogether.
Where 'Coco' scores points for me (purely because I have seen this in action IRL) is its subtle exploration of the power of music to evoke memories and feelings, and its use of original songs to do this. 'The Book of Life', with its completely different emphasis, uses original music extremely differently, and it is interesting to contrast how it and 'Coco' showcase how music can be used.
As a result, 'Coco' and 'The Book of Life' actually address the key topic of 'life vs living vs survival vs existence' extremely differently, and this is why I think that if you have not watched 'The Book of Life' yet, you must, must, must give it a go. Go and see it for an alternative, thought-provoking, inspiring view on the nature of life, and living life, and while 'Coco' is strong, 'The Book of Life' also has its strengths, and it is fun to watch the two, and be inspired by them in different ways.