Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart, embarks on an adventure that spans three fantastic worlds where he must face his greatest fears.
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
Musical Manolo, scrappy Joaquin and smart Maria are three close childhood pals. Maria gets sent to Europe to study. Joaquin gets seriously into training as a military officer. Manolo is discouraged by his father from his musical aspirations, forcing him instead to take up bullfighting, which is the traditional Sanchez family occupation. When Maria returns to town after several years, Joaquin and Manolo vie for her heart.
Meanwhile, the two lords of the underworld, La Muerta (mistress of the Land of the Remembered) and Xibalba (master of the Land of the Forgotten) take a bet as to who Maria will end up with. On the Day of the Dead, the deities interfere with the outcome, leading to an adventure which will bring the characters from the land of the living to the land of the dead and back.
The most striking feature of this film is the animation style. The human characters are made to look like wooden puppets. This artworks were so ingeniously crafted such that each character is distinct from each other. The three main human characters all look very good and noble. The supporting characters are rather on the ugly, distorted side in their rendition, and these may need getting used to.
The background artwork is no less spectacular. The highlight of the whole film are those scenes in the Land of the Remembered, showing it as a happy bustling and festive place. The colors were so vibrant and rich. The multi-layered designs were so intricate and meticulous in their endemically Mexican-inspired details.
Another wonderful feature of this film is the musical score, written by Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla. This musician has been awarded the Oscar two times before for films "Babel" and "Brokeback Mountain." The soundtrack also employs the most unexpected pop songs, sung Mexican style of course. Hearing a familiar song being sung makes me smile and even sing along. The sensitive singing voice of Diego Luna (as Manolo) makes songs as diverse as Radiohead's "Creep" to Elvis' "Can't Help Falling in Love" sound so good.
I believe this film had a lot of educational value in it for the young audience it targets. There are a lot of Latino values being tackled here about friendship and family, the status of women, the respect for the dead, etc., which are likewise universal as well, more often than not. It also introduces us, both kids and adults alike, to the vibrant Mexican culture, especially about their Day of the Dead.
The pace of the film was slow at first, but once you get into its groove, you will surely enjoy the eventful ride. My two sons with me, as well as the much younger kids in the theater with us, all seemed to enjoy the film very much as you hear a lot of gleeful laughter at the some of the shallower jokes. This was despite the rather macabre subject matter and several grotesque-looking (albeit in a comical way) characters. It also had humorous moments that only adults would chuckle at.
Aside from Diego Luna, the line-up of voice actors surprisingly included Zoe Saldana as Maria and Channing Tatum as Joaquin. I would not have guessed. Other familiar names such as Ron Perlman and Christina Applegate are also on board. The most unexpected name I saw on the list though was that of Ice Cube as the sunshiny fluffy underworld character named Candlemaker. Some well-known Latino actors like Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo and Placido Domingo voice the more mature characters, like Manolo's dad and ancestors.
Overall, "The Book of Life" is a very unique animated feature film. The basic story is based on Mexican folklore and traditions, so the animation style had the colors, designs and style of Mexico. The different look and unfamiliar references may turn off some less adventurous viewers, but really it should not. This is one very educational and very entertaining film for all ages. Writer and Director Jorge R. Gutierrez was able to successfully expand on his experience on Nickelodeon's frenetic award-winning animated series "El Tigre:The Adventures of Manny Rivera" (which he also created) and here proudly showcased his beloved Mexican roots on a much bigger platform. 8/10.
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