Jorge R. Gutierrez’s The Book of Life is a refreshing and fun animated movie that both adults and children will enjoy. Considering how lately we have been overstuffed with Disney’s oh so sweet fairy tales and animated movies that are STRICTLY for the kids (The Lego Movie being the sole expectation to all of this), The Book of Life, which shares more in common with Tim Burton style story telling, is just what we needed. It tells a solid story, that is balanced with great action scenes, colorful characters and good messages for children to take away. Sure it isn’t anything ground breaking or brilliant (like some of Pixar’s work) but it is a good time at the movies and it isn’t to sweet it will make you go in to a diabetic comma.
The story written by Gutierrez’s (with some help from producer Guillermo del Toro) starts in the modern world, were a group of “aggressive” children arrive at a museum and are taken on a secret tour by the pretty young guide Mary Beth (Christian Applegate). She brings them to a cave like layer, that contains a giant book called The Book of Life. She begins to the tell a tale, that takes place on the Day of the Dead (Nov.2) about one of the greatest bets of all time between Xibalba (Ron Pearlman) who is the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten and his lover La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) the ruler of the Land of the Remembered. The bet involves a young girl named Maria (Zoe Saldana) who has caught the eye of her two best friends Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). La Muerte and Xibalba bet on which one of the boys will end up marrying Maria. The 3 children however are pushed away from each other when each of their fathers (or father figures) have different plans for them…Maria sent to a boarding school, Joaquin to be the town hero like his dead father and Manolo is pushed by his father to continue the family tradition of being a bull tamer, dispute having a passion and talent for guitar playing.
The children grow up and are reunited and the boys continue their rivalry for the heart of their lovely friend. It is here were Manolo becomes the clear hero of the movie as we seem him refuse to kill the bull, much to the annoyance of this father and swoon for Maria with modern day pop songs. His journey to get to his true love takes us through 3 very different worlds and many adventures.
The movie looks fantastic, with a wide variety of colors used , that really pop and catch your eye. The back drops are both flashy and stunning to look at, but very much with a Halloween style vibe to them. They contain enough color and beauty to wow both the older and younger generations who will be watching the film. The animation is nothing that will blown your mind but the wooden puppet like characters are lovely to look at and the film takes some chances with the animation and includes various styles of animation throughout. However I must advise against going with the inflated 3D option for it is poorly done and adds nothing to the film, which is a shame because this would have a great film to make the screen pop in the format
As I mentioned above the soundtrack is filled with modern day pop songs, which are wonderfully song by the cast. The voice work is really solid, with the Mexican actors really shining through and making an impression, which is not always so easy to do in animated films. The music is aided by some excellent action packed scenes were the music helps bring a vibe and sense of fun to the moments. It helps the pace of the film move at a nice speed and makes sure that no scenes are boring or slow.
The story is also really sweet, without going overboard. There are some lovely messages here about love, feminism, family, death, friendship, bravery and animal rights. It may not go into such depth with its topics like a film such as Wall.E, but the messages are there in a simple format that young children will understand and adults will approve of.
So is The Book of Life a ground breaking epic piece of animation. No. But in 2014 were the animated films have left much to be desired, The Book of Life represents one of the few animated films that is actually worthy of making a family outing. Children may find the story to be a bit confusing at times, but it will not matter because the animation and the action packed moments will be more than enough to hold their attention. The Book of Life may not reach the quirky brilliance of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, but it is in the same grain and at the end of the day that really isn’t a bad thing.