Monday, October 20, 2014

The Book Of Life

Year: 2014
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Voice cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Hector Elizondo, Kate del Castillo

Plot: Two friends compete with each other for the love of one woman, with the keepers of the Land of The Remembered and the Forgotten making a wager on the winner.

Review: I read a review of this film somewhere stating that The Book Of Life is very similar to Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. I can certainly see why.

The Book Of Life has its roots deep in Mexican culture, particularly on The Day Of The Dead. It begins with a group of kids taking a museum tour, where the tour guide introduces them to The Book Of Life, and tells a story from the book about three friends who grew up in San Angel in Mexico: Manolo, Joaquin and Maria. Manolo and Joaquin are both in love with Maria and compete for her attention, from the time they were kids until they're all grown up. La Muerte, ruler of the Land Of The Remembered and Xibalba, ruler of the Land Of The Forgotten, strike a wager on which of the two men will win Maria's heart. Xibalba tries to cheat by giving Joaquin an edge, and even pulls a few tricks to get Manolo out of the way. Finding himself in the Land Of The Remembered, Manolo has to find a way to get back to the Land Of The Living and win Maria back.

Without a doubt, the best thing about this film is the animation. Director Jorge Gutierrez and producer Guillermo del Toro (the one and only) fill the film with lots of colours, which is immediately attractive and vibrant. The animators even go to great lengths to differentiate the various worlds the film inhabits; the museum characters look normal, the story characters in the Land Of The Living look like wooden puppets and the characters in the Land Of The Remembered look like the Day Of The Dead dolls. Best of all, each character is very detailed and distinct in appearance, so all in all it's just lovely to watch.

But the story has to matter too, and I'm glad to note that it's pretty solid. It's a love triangle obviously, but in this case, both men are essentially good guys, each with their own pros and cons. Manolo is a bullfighter who doesn't want to kill bulls and become a musician instead, but is torn between his love for music and his responsibility to his family tradition. Joaquin wants to be a hero like his late father, but doesn't quite know the finer points of being a hero. In the end, both men will find their path of course, but the journey is what makes it good.

The film is filled with loads of other things worth noting, like the Mexican culture on display, the action (which occasionally moves too fast) and some good comedy (mostly coming from a Mariachi band and Maria's pet pig). There's a lot of music too, which gives it a Disney feel, though personally I didn't dig the songs that much, even though they were written quite well.

I do have a minor complaint to add, that being Joaquin's role overall, which seemed a bit underwritten. Of course, the outcome of this love triangle is quite predictable, but even so, Joaquin deserved a bit more development. If we had that, it would make him a better challenge for Manolo and not seem like an understated character in the second half of the film.

Oh, I forgot to mention the voice talents. They're all good, even though it can get jarring when some of them don't speak in a Mexican accent, but I can overlook this one.

The Book Of Life is a pleasant surprise, and certainly deserves more attention than it's getting. Recommended. (8/10)

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