Friday, October 31, 2014

[Review] The Book of Life

Director Jorge R. Gutierrez and producer Guillermo Del Toro present The Book of Life, a Dia de los Muertos (Day of The Dead) celebration themed animated feature. It's a visual treat with a sort of basic story, but it still manages to impress.

'The Book of Life' is essentially a book of stories, involving various realms and rulers, including the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten. This story revolves around Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna), a hopeless romantic, as he competes with a braggadocious bonehead named Joaquin (Channing Tatum), in order to win the heart of Maria (Zoe Saldana), a local strong-willed dream girl.

Things take a significantly more interesting turn at the midpoint when Manolo is forced to journey into the Land of the Remembered, as well as the Land of the Forgotten. The story finally gains some leverage and the visuals ramp up with glowing lights and kinetic energy, almost like the Nightmare Before Christmas with a Mexican culture aesthetic and an infinitely more vibrant color palette. It also introduces a new godlike entity (played by Ice Cube) who injects some lively comedy into the otherwise flat (but not off-putting) humor.

Along with its eye-popping settings, and the awesomely ornate and elaborately decorated character designs, the film flaunts a wondrous horn-driven score, giving the experience an exuberant grandness. There are a number of musical interludes of Manolo plucking away on his acoustic guitar, doing renditions of popular songs from Radiohead's "Creep" to Elvis' "Can't Help Falling In Love". The story delves into themes about dealing with death and the loss of loved ones, as well as bucking family expectations and being yourself. It even somewhat subverts some of the patriarchal trappings the premise initially suggests. And there's a nice and meaningful climax about heroism and selflessness.

The Book of Life ranks a bit below some of the stronger animated films of 2014 like How To Train Your Dragon 2 and The Lego Movie, but it still has enough spice and festivities to render it great in its own realm.


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