With the yearly lineup of films usually featuring several animated flick, it is always good to have one that stands out from the rest. This may have been all the more reason for animated fans to check out The Book of Life. While this animated film was directed by Mexican animator Jorge Gutierrez, the man producing the movie was none other then Guillermo Del Toro. The film commemorates the Mexican holiday, The Day of the Dead, with a supernatural adventure for the whole family. However, could this unique animated film stand out from the rest?
The story to The Book of Life deals with love and the worlds beyond the living. The rulers of The Land of the Remembered and the Forgotten, La Muerte ( Kate Del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlmen) make a wager on three friends. The two bet that either Manolo ( Diego Luna) or Joaquin (Channing Tatum) will marry the lovely Maria (Zoe Saldana). The love triangle leads to Manolo sacrificing himself for Maria and finding himself in the land of the remembered. Realizing he was tricked, Manolo must find a way back to the world of the living so he can win the heart of Maria.
The movie may called The Book of Life, but its story is standard by a movie' definition such as the love triangle and Mono journeying back to the world of the living has been seen on several occasion. However that is not to say everything about this tale was bad. The pacing to the film took me by surprise. The progression of the story created a direction that made the story feel like a tale of life oppose to being centered on one part of the characters' story (though the adulthood of the three leads is the movie's focal point). Plus, the plot does get more entertaining as time goes by. A lot of points to this story have been seen in other animated films, but that is not to say. Plot points The Book of Life doesn't execute these traits well.
Like the story, the main characters to The Book of Life are pretty generic. The reluctant hero Manolo, and even the strong female lead Maria, have been seen before in other movies. Though, adding a character like Joaquin did bring some flavor the lead roles. As performances go, the three main actors did a good enough job. There was nothing that truly stood out from these three, but they did have solid performances. However the characters that steal the show are El Muerte and Xibaba. These omnipotent beings showoff a lot of character in their chemistry and the actor's performances (especially Ron Perlman). Other supporting characters were there to, well, support. The Sanchez family provided a lot of color for the cast, while the Manolo's singing friends were annoying through most of their screen time. Add Ice Cube as the Candle Maker and you have cast that is confusing as it is entertaining.
The animation to The Book of Life was indeed unique. When I say unique I am actually referring to the movie's design. Aside from La Muerte, Xibalba and the Candle Maker, all the characters were presented as figurines; as the story was being told through the use of figures. Though the animation itself was not most influential, it was still able to stand out thanks to the movie's use of color (particularly in The Land of the Remembered). Jorge Gutierrez's direction was no doubt effective, but there was one thing that bothered me. Throughout the movie, there are several songs from popular artists that were sung by Manolo. These songs gave a jukebox musical vibe to the film, but the question I have is why were they there? There did not seem to be a solid reason behind the songs' presence and, while sung terrifically by Diego Luna, it took me out of the film. Though, some of the songs were written by Paul Williams, which was undeniably cool.
Compared to other animated films this year, The Book of Life is pretty mediocre. However, that is not to say this animated feature has no accomplishments. The film does have colorful cast as well as a design that is appealing to the eye. While the film may go above and beyond, The Book of Life is a light-hearted adventure that commemorates one of Mexico's most cherished holidays.
Also see this review on Something Cinematic.