The Book of Life (2014)

Director: Jorge R. Gutiérrez
Writers: Jorge R. Gutiérrez, Douglas Langdale (as Doug Langdale)
Stars: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum

Like a full blown movie version of the classic game Grim Fandango, comes an equally fantastic animated adventure set in Mexico and set around the Day of the Dead celebration. Having already covered similar ground before, Gutiérrez has created a wonderful film here with help from producer del Toro. It’s a long time since an animated film has captured me and held my interest and The Book of Life did that for me in spades.

Manolo (Luna), Joaquin (Tatum) and Maria (Saldana) are three childhood friends who both Manolo and Joaquin have crushes on. They both vow to marry her one day, but before that their days are filled with fun and adventure. Manolo wishes to become a musical artist despite his fathers persistence that he continue in the family tradition of becoming a great bull fighter. Joaquin is a natural fighter and he wishes to be like his late father, who was a decorated soldier.

Whilst this is going on, La Muerte and Xibalba who rule the the land of the remembered (La Muerte) and dead (Xibalba) are making a bet on who will eventually marry Maria. One day Maria is sent away and life goes on, until her return years later, where now grown up, both of our hero’s try to win her heart. The story being based upon Mexican traditions and folklore could be lost on some but many European countries also have similar beliefs and celebrate this day. Despite this, things are pretty easy to follow.

The animation style is vivid and colourful as one might expect and very Latin in style. There is also always something going on in the corner of your eye or behind a main character, so it is easy to miss many of the little animated wonders that hide within this quirky feature. A lot of people have complained about the pacing but I never had a problem with it, allowing myself to be introduced to the characters and then taken along their journey, of which for Manolo there are many.

The story itself is very good (while cliched at times) and the voice acting from the exceptional cast to bring the animation to life is excellent all round. Likewise the soundtrack is wonderful too, even with the pop songs sung with a Mexican flavour. The film also has some brilliant humour with some wickedly funny lines. As with most of these types of animated films, there are jokes for all age ranges with many probably going over younger viewers heads.

The Book of Life takes you on a wonderful and colourful journey with tears and joy in equal measure, but also with a message to tell that isn’t condescending. Funny, dark, surreal, the story is well written and there is literally so much going on there should be something for everyone. The animation style is second-to-none and Gutiérrez and del Toro really have crafted something special that is far superior in my opinion to any of the recent lazy offerings from either Dreamworks or Pixar.


The Sage’s Rating:

Posted in Adventure, Animated, Comedy and tagged , , , , .

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