Animation, Reviews

The Book of Life

Book of Life

Copyright © 2014 by 20th Century Fox

Childhood friends Manolo Sánchez (Diego Luna), Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Maria Posada (Zoe Saldana) are reunited many years later after Maria is sent away for causing a ruckus in San Angel. Now, a skilled matador, Manolo and Joaquin, a revered protector of the townspeople are in love with the educated beauty and her predicament is used as a wager between La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman). La Muerte has picked the gentle and caring aspiring singer to be Maria’s suitor while her partner hopes the brawnier Joaquin will be a better match. Should Xibalba win, he will exchange reigning duties with La Muerte as the new ruler in the ‘Land of the Remembered’. To tip the scale in his favour, the meddling spirit’s extremities may eliminate one of the friends permanently from the bet.

It is timely for any movie to be spirited away in the direction of the supernatural comes Halloween and animation is getting more adventurous with a palate for the dead. Some of the finest which tackles this difficult topic with care and sensitivity belong to Tim Burton (‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’, ‘Corpse Bride’ and ‘Frankenweenie’). Celebrated Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki also took a shot at it and the Oscar-winning anime (sole winner) is still the highest earning film in Japan to this day.

Other significant and whimsical but underrated offerings of the past that deserve mention for their amusing observation on the afterlife would have to include ‘Monster House’, Coraline’ and ‘ParaNorman’. Now, you can tag on this quirky, funny and delightfully made Mexican folklore to the list of must-see shows but have yet to watch. It happens. I actually just completed ‘Oculus’ a while back and the verdict: deftly crafted.

Granted that both fables revolve around family, the outcomes could not be any more different. The Tatum-starrer communicates with the dead for help but the Jason Blum-produced sleeper is dead set on taking lives. Nevertheless, the twists at the end may leave the respective groups cheering for more or flummoxed (I would go for the latter but let’s not kid ourselves, the toon in question, like many before it will reap its happily ever after).

That does not mean the ride is not a fun one to relish. Things really kick in full gear when an unpredictable decision is made and the viewers are thrusts along with Manolo into the ‘Land of the Remembered’ for a literally polychromatic experience. The disparity between the living and the deceased is fittingly represented on how we live our lives in real life – lifeless and pallid while alive but teeming with vivacity in the sweet hereafter.

Even though it can be discordant for traditional to be laced in pop references and bridged by contemporary and original compositions, the songs are bonded riotously to Spanish-sounding beats, a means commendably used in ‘Happy Feet’ for many of the show’s toe-tapping numbers. The charismatic cast of Luna, Tatum, Perlman and del Castillo also boost the sometimes forced humour in its already labyrinthine second act which could be daunting if you are surrounded by preschoolers who are merely warming themselves up before ‘Big Hero 6’ is unleashed.

However, what it lacks in style is highly compensated with wit and originality from the brilliant mind of Jorge Gutierrez, most renowned for the award winning ‘El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera’. As ingenious as a Guillermo del Toro fantasy (he is producer after all), this winner will not only beguile but more importantly, for its venerable contribution to Mexico’s rich and diverse culture.

Entirety: B+
Acting (Voice): A
Plot: A-

Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images


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