Dir: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Pearlman, Christina Applegate, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, and Ice Cube
Synopsis: Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review*
The Book of Life is a great tribute to Mexican culture and its Day of the Dead (which the movie was originally going to be called) celebration – I’m not going to say holiday because it seems off to me. But who better to bring the culture to the big screen than producer Guillermo del Toro and first time director Jorge R. Gutierrez.
The movie start with a group of detention kids who end up taking a trip to the museum and find their tour guide (voiced by Applegate) that relates the story of the movie to them while also giving them, and the audience, a lesson in Mexican traditions.
The Book of Life follows three childhood friends – Manolo (Luna), Maria (Saldana) and Joaquin (Tatum) – who are caught in a love triangle end up becoming the subject of a wager between La Muerte (del Castillo), who oversees the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo, La Muerte’s champion wins Maria’s hand in marriage, Xibalba must stop interfering in human affairs, but if Xibalba’s champion of Joaquin wins then he gets to rule both worlds.
After the three do something that could have harmed the people of the town, Maria is sent away by her father and leaves Manolo and Joaquin to follow in the footsteps of their fathers. Joaquin’s late father was a great soldier that protected the town from a deadly outlaw, while Manolo hails from a long line of famous bullfighters, but proves to be a disappointment to his father (voiced by Elizondo) because he can’t kill the bull and would rather be a singer.
Of course, Maria returns to town many years later and Manolo and Joaquin go back to fighting for her heart. Manolo’s attempts eventually lead to the heavy advertised journey to the Land of the Remembered – with all you eat churros! – and where Manolo meets his ancestors and of course learns valuable lessons.
I will admit, I didn’t think the movie would be as good as it turned out. The Book of Life has a lot of humor for adults and kids and is visually amazing to look at. The team really did a great job of making every setting having its own unique look and feel to it. The Land of the Remembered is easily the best looking setting in the movie with all the vivid and bright colors that pop in every corner. The animation might throw some people off but wooden look to the characters when they are in the town as opposed to the skeleton look in the other worlds is handled in an effective way.
While visually the movie is great to see, its plot does feel pretty predictable with two guys in love with same woman. But it’s the way the story is told that is important and luckily the movie is engaging and the characters are endearing and funny. Diego Luna really makes us root for Manolo. Channing Tatum gives Joaquin a goofball/showoff quality that thankfully doesn’t make you hate him, but also makes you feel for him consider who his father was. Zoe Saldana’s Maria isn’t really a damsel-in-distress, as she shows throughout the movie that she can take care of herself.
While they are the main focus of the movie, the relationship between La Muerte and Xibalba is, arguably, a bit more interesting. Del Castillo and Pearlman sound like they are having a lot of fun playing the characters. While in theory Xibalba, and maybe even La Muerte since her name is Death, they are villains, they have these really sweet moments together and don’t act like villains at all. I’d have to say one of the weakest voice casting is Ice Cube as the Candle Maker. Nothing against Ice Cube, because he does have some fun/funny moments, it just feels like they casted him to a have another “celebrity” voice against the mostly Hispanic cast.
The rest of the voice cast that includes Hector Elizondo as Manolo’s father, Danny Trejo as Manolo’s grandfather, and Gabriel Iglesias and Cheech Marin as mariachis do their part and have some great moments as the supporting cast.
Since the movie is based around The Day of the Dead, it does address the meaning of it and does deal with the death of loved ones which some – if not all – Hollywood kids movies avoid. The other great thing the movie does is it takes modern songs and adds a mariachi flare to them (I think you won’t hear “Creep” by Radiohead the same again). Some of the songs – like Creep – add to the tone of the scenes, but some others add to the humor of the film.
All in all, The Book of Life is a ton of fun to watch. The Day of the Dead aspect of the movie is great to see on the big screen and done with respect.
The Book of Life
5 out of 5