The Book of Life (2014)


An extravaganza of loud colours and fun festivities, this film certainly lives well in showing a story of the dead. Three worlds, three lead characters and a host of many other treats work together with humour, folklore and music to produce a glorious moving canvas for the audience.

Upon arriving at a museum, a group of school kids under detention meet and hear a story from the tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate). The story is found in the Book of Life and the tale she recounts concerns a Mexican town called San Angel and the importance of three people on this dwelling. A feisty and adored Maria (Zoe Saldana) comes back after time away in Europe and lands back in the midst of her squabbling friends and admirers, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). This causes larger attention from outside presences. Two gods who reside over The Land of the Remembered – La Muerte, and of the Forgotten – Xibalba make a wager on the guy they believe will marry Maria, if Xibalba wins he’ll finally rule the Land of the Remembered, if not then he’ll cease interfering with the mortals.

It’s a fascinating backdrop that has a lot going on but not at the same time. There’s plenty included by screenwriters, Doug Langdale and Jorge Gutierrez to keep adults engaged and keep children wide eyed. The whole film being about the Mexican Day of the Dead festival is an interesting plot and thankfully or hopefully it will shed light on cultural aspects of another country for younger people watching. The ghosts being remembered by tombstones and the realms of different states of being are very poetic and perfect for an animation film such as this.

Speaking of the animation, I have to say it’s gorgeous. I love the different approach to the style of characters, settings and more. Reel FX Creative Studios and the team behind the animated world have created a triumph of something new and exciting. The cardboard faces or wooden puppet hands attached with bars of metal all make it feel like a pop up book coming to splendid life. This truly makes the narrative feel as if we’re being gifted the story along with the kids in the museum.

The more emotional sides of the story are there as well, maybe not done as well as the lighter side of things or as greatly as the sparkling animation but the passing of characters and the quest of Manolo to become the person he wants to be and not what he’s expected to be, are neat fine character touches that do enough to tick the plot over. It’s a rival story that comes good of course but the journey to get to the town being saved is a giddy ride to entertain you past the pretty simple and less than inspiring plot points.

The music is a treat for the ears with pop songs being blended in with more Mexican flavoured tunes. It’s wonderfully done and performed when you hear things like Mumford and Sons or Elvis Presley benefiting the story and being sung with a unique voice. There’s so much heart in the other songs too, for example, ‘I Love You Too Much’ is so beautiful and Manolo’s music loving bullfighter character brings that needed taste of magical sound.

There’s actually a solid amount of comedy involved in this plot too, it works better than the pretty concrete slab of dramatic plot they have cut out. The singing nuns, the many Sanchez’s, the Mariachi band, the medal for medals joke. There’s a lot of humour that both kids and grown ups can and will enjoy. It’s a very snappily moving film that kind of resembles the pacy zip of ‘Cloud with a Chance of Meatballs’ and that’s no bad comparison. The three worlds all have their moments of magic, fun and intrigue and that’s what makes this entire film shoot along very nicely.

Ron Perlman is gruff and mischievous enough to be dark but not overly scary as Xibalba, it’s certainly played in a way story and character wise that reminded me of Hades from Disney ‘Hercules’. Luna is very good as the leading man, he has a great soft approach to the less than traditional heroic strong man and his songs are great. Tatum is of course right for the ballsy large action guy role and his confidence is evident in the swagger of his voice but it’s a role that could have gone to a Mexican unknown, making it seem less Hollywood striving for big name acting talent attention. Saldana seems to possess a no nonsense yet soothing velvety quality in her performance and Maria is a cool character to like.

Very bright and luxurious in design of character and sumptuous rainbow filled splendour of the Day of the Dead, but it does lack quite a bit in riveting storytelling to match the magical nature of the animation. It does more than enough to entice people in with folklore and make young people start early in understanding morality and memory.



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