This colorful celebration of life, love, music, and friendship begins in San Angel, a village that bridges this world and the next. In this small town lives Manolo (Diego Luna), a young dreamer who has never fit in with his family. While they plan to make him a champion bullfighter like his father Carlos (Hector Elizondo) and grandfather Luis (Danny Trejo), Manolo wants only to make music and win the heart of his true love.
Manolo has always shared everything with his best friend, the athletic and popular Joaquin (Channing Tatum), whose loyalty to Manolo is rivaled only by his ambition as a soldier. For years, they have competed for the love of their friend Maria (Zoe Saldana), the beautiful, intelligent daughter of the town’s most powerful general. With her natural charisma and an uncommonly independent spirit, Maria is adored by all of San Angel.
At the same time, the rulers of two otherworldly realms—one for souls that are still remembered and one for souls that have been forgotten—also have an interest in Maria. These rulers, the mischievous Xibalba (Ron Perlman) and his bride La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), are restless immortals who have placed a bet on which friend Maria will choose to marry—with the fate of their world at stake.
When Manolo lets down his family by refusing to bullfight, the Rodriguez Brothers Pepe (Gabriel Iglesias), Pablo (Ricardo Sanchez), and Pancho (Cheech Marin) join in with a musical number guaranteed make Maria fall in love with him.
One night, San Angel is attacked by bandits led by the formidable Chakal (Dan Navarro). Manolo watches as Joaquin becomes the town’s hero by driving them off—for now. Still, Manolo is determined to win Maria’s love. But when Xibalba tricks Manolo into thinking Maria has died, Manolo follows her to the land of remembered souls, a colorful and festive version of the world he just left behind. Realizing that he has been tricked, Manolo begins a quest to find La Muerte and Xibalba in order to win back his life—and the chance to be with Maria.
This journey takes Manolo on a wild adventure across an unforgettable landscape. With the help of his ancestors, the ancient, magical Candle Maker (Ice Cube), and the tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) narrating the story from the mysterious Book of Life, Manolo must conquer unexpected dangers and his deepest fears. Only then will he be able to return to San Angel at its most fateful hour to prove his love—and the importance of staying true to who you are.