Review of BOOK OF LIFE

by Simon on April 1, 2015 · 0 comments

Mexico’s gloriously macabre Day of the Dead celebrations are the backdrop for one of the most original animated films in some time. Animator Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s obsession with the culture of his native Mexico gives him and his team a rich palette to work from, both in terms of his screenplay and the wonderful animations. 

The Book Of Life screenwizeThe story concerns three young friends, Maria (Zoe Saldana), Manolo (Diego Luna), and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) whose childhood play turns into rivalry as Manolo and Joaquin begin competing for Maria’s affections. Stepping in to this love triangle are the supernatural beings La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), figures from the afterlife who make a bet on who will get the girl, both of them playing a little dirty (as they do in all good classic stories) which costs Manolo his life. However, dying on Day of the Dead gives him the chance to fight his way back to his friends.

Their love-from-beyond-the-grave story is actually being told to a group of teenaged school students at a modern-day big city museum by a mysterious tour guide (Christina Applegate) out of the titular Book of Life. This is a bumper school holiday period for family films, and this would be my pick of the crop.

The story is about the love of family but the importance of finding your own identity as you grow into an adult, while profiling a set of cultural characters probably unfamiliar to many Australian audiences. So much to talk about with your kids afterwards, if you can get them to look up from their screens for five minutes.

The film enjoys the mentorship of Guillermo del Toro as producer and his visual style is nodded to throughout the animations, but most importantly, the spirit (pun intended) of joy from Dia De Los Muertos can be seen and felt throughout. I did feel Gutiérrez wasn’t entirely successful in pulling his audience all the way with him – I was very moved by the visuals, not so much by his characters. Along with the soundtrack work from Babel composer Gustavo Santaolalla the film is peppered with contemporary pop classics sungs by the characters, and while we grown-ups might find Radiohead and Biz Markie amusingly anachronistic, your kids probably won’t even recognise the songs to find them funny.

Rating: ★★★½☆   CK

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