The Book of Life

Posted October 16, 2014 by in


Total Score

5/ 5

Quick Stats

Genre: animation
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
MPAA Rating: PG
Actors: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Length: 95 minutes
Release Date: 10/17/2014
Studio: Reel FX Creative Studios, Twentieth Century Fox Animation (presents), Chatrone
What We Thought

It’s funny, charming, beautifully animated and hopelessly romantic. I loved The Book of Life from start to finish.

by Daniel Hodgson
Full Article
The Book of Life is an instant classic, the year’s best animated film so far.  Where The Lego Movie felt new and contemporary, The Book of Life is fresh, yet timeless.  It’s a great family film, satisfying for both adults and children alike.
     The story: Manolo and Joaquin are best friends, and both love the same woman, Maria (Zoe Saldana), having known her since childhood.  Manolo (Diego Luna) comes from a long line of bullfighters, but deep inside, he wants to be a musician.  Joaquin (Channing Tatum), on the other hand, is a self-absorbed, sexist braggart, but also a selfless hero and decorated officer.
     The Gods of the afterlife take an interest in the little love triangle.  La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), the ruler of the Land of the Remembered Dead, favors Manolo, but her ex-husband Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten Dead, wants Joaquin to win, and gives him a magical medal which makes him invincible so long as he wears it.  La Muerte and Xibalba make a wager on whom Maria will choose.
     The Book of Life is one of the most romantic love stories in animation since WALL-E, making the film a great date movie—indeed, it echoes a classic love story, Romeo and Juliet.  There is a wonderful scene where Manolo, a born-mariachi, serenades Maria with “I Love You Too Much,” and Diego Luna lends his beautiful singing voice to the part.  However, her favors are not so easily won.  Manolo must journey through the underworld, and face his worst fears to win her love.
     While the film is computer animated, the characters have a charming, traditional 2D design to them, as if they were plucked right out of a Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network show, with cartoonishly exaggerated facial features, and Guiterrez likes to show them from the front or the side—like a TV cartoon would.  Yet at the same time, The Book of Life takes advantage of the stereoscopic 3D format, creating a unique world of imagination as far as the eye can see.  Like How to Train Your Dragon or Avatar, this is how you shoot a 3D movie.
     The film’s backgrounds are just as inspired as the character designs.  The Land of the Remembered is breathtaking, an awe-inspiring vision of imagination and wonder.  Festive balloons fill the sky, colored brightly with neon intensity.  The streets of the city are populated with skeleton people celebrating El Dia de los Muertos.  It’s like nothing you’ve seen before, and must be seen to be believed.
     The Book of Life has a wonderful wit that will keep you laughing for its 95 brisk minutes.  The humor has a cartoon slapstick sensibility that will keep kids laughing—and the kid in you.  For the adults, there are several clever play-on-words, and a wealth of funny dialog that make the film worth watching as a comedy.  Really, it’s the funniest film I’ve seen this year, live-action or animated.
     The film celebrates Mexican culture, but is also critical of it, such as Maria’s rejection of its male-dominance, namely in Joaquin’s attitude towards her.  Furthermore, the film also condemns the practice of bullfighting when Manual refuses to kill the beast when Maria returns to their hometown, even when it means shame upon himself and his family.  The film is not only about passion, but compassion, something Maria and Manolo have in common.  They are kindred spirits, two people who belong together.
     I loved The Book of Life from start to finish.  It’s funny, charming, beautifully animated and hopelessly romantic.  It’s a tour-de-force feature debut for its director Jorge R. Gutierrez, and an achievement for Reel FX, the studio behind the film.  If Reel FX can make a movie this good every time, we just might have another Pixar on our hands.

About the Author

Daniel Hodgson

Daniel has a degree in film from the University of Texas at Austin, and writes about himself in the third-person, because that's the fashion.


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