It’s October and it is usually the time for Halloween themed movies. Unfortunately for us, Halloween has been reduced to cheap horrors, or repetitive thrillers that are a bit of a bore. This year has been slightly different, but this reviewer would like the studios to go back in the past and pull some more seasonal themes to entertain us. Well, someone got my vibe; because my last review is on a film that captures the festive fun that Halloween is for the young and young at heart. So sit back my friends and catch my latest review on the animated feature The Book of Life.
I’ll start this review with talking about the story. The Book of Life has a fantastic tale that centers on the typical complication of a love triangle between characters Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana), and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Now we know the typical elements involved in this type of plot, but this film deviates from the typical and gives a little more pep around the story. From the start you get the backstory on each character, and the individual struggles they each face. Then they take these qualities and exploit them by bringing in the two masters of the underworld, who make a wager as to who will win the girl. The result of this wager makes for an interesting romantic tale that is fun; emotional, and more realistic than half the dramas we get these days. However, the movie does not stop there, instead it ties in an adventure and blends it into all the aspects, making for a fun film. Another benefit is that the whole tale revolves around the Mexican celebration of the day of the dead, bringing a unique take on the classic Halloween tale and providing a little education as well. What results from this blend is a fun tale that keeps you hooked into the story and enjoying the ride at hand.
The story isn’t the only thing influenced by the Mexican culture though; the artistic style of the movie is also heavily influenced. The Book of Life is sort of a modern day Nightmare Before Christmas where CGI takes the place of stop motion animation. The tale is told through the use of wood puppets, hence the puppet like appearance you’ve seen in the trailers. These dolls are similar to Tim Burton’s world, filled with sharp angles and rounded features to give characters diversity. However, unlike Tim Burton, this director chose to liven things up a little by veering from the dark colors and adding wide splashes of color. This is not only to catch your eyes, but also to mirror the celebration that Day of the Dead is about and that life doesn’t end as long as you are remembered. In the Underworld especially the color comes out, and the festivities are brought to full light in the magical realm of the dead. On the contrary, the land of the Forgotten is dim, bleak and miserable, mirroring the feelings of oblivion that arise. Regardless, the worlds are diverse and fun, filled with ancient Central American influences that were a welcomed change. Even the characters have a unique pizazz to them, each main character standing out in their own way. I in particular liked the Queen of the underworld, impressed with the blend of partying, happy, and death all wrapped into one package. The ruler of the Forgotten Land was also diverse with sharp, dark edges in shades of purple, neon green, and crimson to portray the darkness of his soul.
What else makes this movie fun? The next aspect is the comedy, which for the most part is well timed and well delivered. There isn’t much unique writing or witty humor in this movie, but more in how it is delivered. Countless puns are shouted in ridiculous voices, often followed by a character face planting into an object. What’s even better is that the comedy is also diverse and spread out instead of following the typical style of beating a joke to death, the exception being Joaquin’s obsession with mustaches. In addition to the comedy, the music also brings some thing to the film. Most of the numbers are covers of famous songs, some done horribly to be funny and others that are very relevant to the setting. A couple of the original numbers made my emotions go on a ride, as happiness, sadness, and even love all came together in the instruments and voice. Now most won’t find it as powerful as Frozen, but for this reviewer it was nice having the music built around the movie, not the opposite way around.
Aside from the singing, the voice acting is incredible, each of the cast capturing the essence of the stereotypical Mexican character. Now there are too many to write about so let me pick my three favorites. First is Christina Applegate, the girl has got sass, spunk, and compassion all at work in her tour guide character. She sells the story as she uses the wooden puppets to craft the tale while keeping the kids in line as they try to diverse from the tale. Applegate’s motherly side comes out at times when the kids get scared, and she comforts them just as good mother’s do. Then there was Zoe Saldana who has the feisty Mexican girl zest that shows everyone girls don’t need men to save them. Her voice is suave and full of passion, and exactly the buffer needed amidst the rowdy, rough voices of the cast. Finally the Queen of the Dead was my favorite character, and Kate del Castillo does a nice job bringing the character to life with flare, kindness, and the ability to hold her own.
So what is weak about this movie? It was hard for me to pick things out, but it starts with the predictability. At first the movie had me thinking it was going another direction, but that was offset moments later when we returned to the main path. You soon begin to guess what will happen to who, and overall who will win in the end. A second weakness was how simplistic the trials were to meet the guardian of the souls. I was expecting a little more danger and strategy to the trials, or at least more trials to prove his worthiness, but sadly that adventure was limited. In addition, the use of music to solve all of the problems was also a bit cheesy. It was definitely a good character development, and something I appreciate, but sometimes music can’t defeat everything. Also we got a good look at the land of the dead, but I felt we should of seen a little more of the world and our character navigating the environment it held. Oh well a movie can’t be perfect right?
What can you take away from my sporadic rambling? The Book of Life is one of the better-animated films I’ve seen in a while. It’s Halloween fun, with colorful worlds and characters that balance out the predictable and limited tale. Everything I had hoped for in the trailers came to life for me in this film, and I thoroughly enjoyed the work this team crafted. I strongly recommend seeing this movie in theaters, possibly in 3-D. I haven’t had this much fun at the movies in quite some time, and I believe most will enjoy the adventure at hand. My scores for this film are:
Movie Overall: 9.0