The Book of Life (2014)
Manolo, Maria and Joaquin are the three amigos. As children they are inseparable until Maria is sent away to Europe to learn to be a woman and the two boys are forced to live out their destinies as determined by their great ancestors. Manolo grows into a man who pure of heart who will willing sacrifice himself for others. Joaquin is the hero who knows his strengths and doesn’t mind telling you about them. Both have never stopped loving Maria. Their love for the same beautiful woman leads them both down fantastical paths that will forever change the course of their lives. Starring the voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Carlos Alazraqui, Ana de la Reguera, Placido Domingo, Jorge R. Gutierrez, Grey DeLisle.
From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez, The Book of Life is a beautiful tribute to the traditions and values of the Mexican culture. It is comprised of beautiful art and magnificent animation, it’s only downfall is its formulaic story and lack of any truly inspiring originality. The Book of Life is sure to appeal to the hispanic audience but you can easily tell that wasn’t the intent or purpose of del Toro in making this film. It feels more like a an open welcome to those of other cultures to come and learn about the rich heritage of the Mexican culture. I say this because the fantastical story starring the main characters is book ended by a few “real life” scenes that set the stage for the fantasy portion of the film. These separate parts nicely offset the fantastical elements and provide an added level of interest that gives the rather generic love story a boost.
There is certainly quite a bit to appreciate about this movie. The animation is stunning with vibrant colors and beautiful details that you would expect from a del Toro produced film. The voice acting is on target and I didn’t spend the whole movie sitting there thinking “hey that is Channing Tatum’s voice.” Voices that fit the characters and don’t stand out is definitely a plus in my book. If only they had a compelling story to tell. I felt a little disappointed that the whole film is about a love story, which sadly didn’t inspire much love from me. The story felt contrived and flat. I didn’t get any real depth except a few moments at the beginning as they celebrate the Day of the Dead. I felt in this scene that I was learning something and there was some history to savor and appreciate. Sadly the film attempts to be a comedy but falls far short. The jokes are cliché or you saw them so many times in the trailer they just aren’t funny any more. This bright beautiful seemingly light-hearted film is actually rather one note with little passion and hardly any depth to speak of.
All that said The Book of Life was certainly an enjoyable film. Sure I felt like it missed some opportunities to be a great film but it meets the basic requires with great animation, interesting characters and an okay story at a reasonable running time. The Book of Life fills a void in the mass market films that has a more international appeal so that is a plus. But I don’t think this one will be ‘remembered’ for too long before being banished to the land of the forgotten. Still worth enjoying while it is here.
7/10 Stars – Not as compelling or interesting as I had hoped but beautiful animation is always worth a peak.
Except for the story, the Book of Life is a unique and special movie. It is full of loveable characters, has plenty of colors and has a style that I haven’t seen before. The inclusion of the Mexican heritage is a welcomed theme that helps this movie not feel “samey” at all. The story revolves around a simple love triangle about 3 childhood friends, but what makes this one different is the bet made by the 2 underworld rulers. I think the addiction of these 2 characters makes the story that much better, even if the love story has been over done before.
Both young and old will appreciate this movie. For the young viewers, there are many life lessons to soak in that provide guidance and show selflessness, while the older audiences will reflect on the ones we have lost and the appreciate the time we have left. I’m always touched and affected by movies that surround death and saying goodbye, so the emotional moments of this movie affected me a little more than it might others, but the messages it sends are delivered quite nicely.
The only thing I didn’t quite get about this movie was the inclusion of modern songs. Sure they had a hispanic twist to them, but why couldn’t all the songs be original rather than only some of them? I know this is a small complaint, but I noticed during the movie and knowing some of the songs in their true form was a bit of a distraction. Also, I would have loved for more education surrounding the Day of the Dead. The movie focuses so much on the love story that I felt it missed the opportunity to provide more teaching on the Mexican culture. Again, not that big a deal because there is a lot of culture already, but would have been nice. At the end of the day, The Book of Life is a welcomed change of pace to the animation world from its style to its message. Everyone will enjoy this movie!
8/10 Stars – Emotional, colorful, charming and educational, the Book of Life is a great family movie that will teach the young and touch the old.