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From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez comes an animated comedy with a unique visual style. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future. Written by
20th Century Fox
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. Once more, 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.
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. Many of the elements are similar, with the skeletons and landscapes sharp and angular to mirror the darkness of the afterlife. However, unlike Tim Burton, this director chose to liven things up a little by veering from the dark colors and adding wide splashes of colorful. 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 fold in the magical realm of the dead. Deep in the land of the Forgotten, the oblivion of elimination is presented by a frozen cavern where hope is nonexistent. Regardless, the worlds are diverse and fun, filled with ancient Central American influences that were a welcomed change. Even the characters have pizazz to them, each main character standing out in their own unique 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 of unique design, 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 plot. 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 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. The girls sells the story as she uses the wooden puppets, which are represented in the character design, to craft the tale, keeping the kids in line, and yet showing empathy. 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.
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. 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:
Animation/Adventure/Comedy: 9.5 Movie Overall: 9.0
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