Review of 'The Book of Life'

the_book_of_life.jpg In a surreal world of vivid imagery and colours a school tour at a museum for a bunch of “loser” children has a museum guide telling them a story from the Day of the Dead. In “San Angel” town there are three friends: Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana), Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Manolo loves nothing but to spend time making music on his guitar while has father wishes him to be a matador like all of their male ancestors. Joaquin is more of an action hero. La Muerte (voiced by Kate Del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered where the souls of the departed live on with the memories of their loved ones and Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten make a wager as to which of the two boys will wed Maria. La Meurta believes it will be Manolo and his passionate heart while Xibalba believes it will be the dashing Joaquin. Hoping to swing things in his favour La Meurta gives Joaquin a medal granting him invincibility. Maria leaves the village only to return a number of years later when the two boys are now young men. Manolo still refuses to be the matador expected by his father despite being amazing in the ring he refuses to kill the bull. Joaquin is now the dashing hero, vanquishing a group of bandits that threaten the village. Manolo seeks to woo Maria but is killed by Xibalba's snake and sent to the “Land of the Remembered” leaving Joaquin free to marry Maria. Chakal (voiced by Dan Navarro), leader of the bandits learns that Joaquin has the invincibility medal stolen from him by Xibalba so is determined to get it back, meanwhile Manolo has to find a way to return to the land of the living and win Maria's love…

An incredibly vibrant film full of life and excitement though with a fairly involved story. The animation is imaginative and superb with rich detail in every frame. In the story of Maria and the two boys the characters are all living wooden puppets echoing the literal puppets used by the museum guide in the real world. The lands they visit are equally wonderful to beyond with amazing looking visuals throughout which echoes the design aesthetics of real-world Day of the Dead festivities. It is incredibly obvious that a great deal of care and love went into the making of this film. One of the most visually stunning pieces of animation I have ever seen.

The characters are deliciously over the top and engaging, really drawing us into the story. The casting of the voice talent is perfect particularly in the form of Ron Perlmen as the duplicitous Xibalba who manages to be sinister but never truly frightening.

“The Book of Life” contains a lot of the cultural heritage of the Mexican “Day of the Dead” which many may not be familiar so it may take some a bit more time to take in the reality of the world on the screen though this is all presented in such an easily accessible way it barely slows the breathless pace of the story. At just over 90 minutes long there is an incredible amount of story to get through but it never seems to get beyond the viewer.

An amazing looking animation that manages to stay true to the fundamental truths of the story and still be a great deal of fun. I am not sure young children would be able to necessarily follow all the detail but it is doubtless they would be captivated by what they see.

Rating: “I have absolutely no complaints”

Review Date: 2020-06-05

Directed by: Jorge R. Gutiérrez

Studio: Reel FX Creative Studios

Year: 2014

Length: 95 minutes

Genre: Animation