A pretty enchilada of fun
“The Book of Life” changed its title several times and finally landed on something still somewhat ambiguous, but the film itself is a visually wondrous animated concoction that crackles with energy and creativity. Its Mexican folklore accents combine with a variety of themes – a love triangle, a gently macabre afterlife journey, a threatening bandit, and south-of-the-border cultural references galore—make this an enjoyably frenetic enchilada of a family film.
“The Book of Life” is the vision of producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez, and it’s obvious their work has been heavily influenced by Tim Burton’s ghoulishly giddy visions. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is clearly an inspiration, and the characters themselves are modeled after traditional wooden folk-art figures heavily decorated in great detail and bursting with lively colors.
The Latino-dominated voiceover cast offers splendid interpretations. Diego Luna is tender-hearted guitar player Manolo, Channing Tatum as his boyhood friend Joaquin, the ever-boastful but lovable soldier, and both of them grow up to pursue the beautiful and fiery Maria (Zoe Saldana). The gods of the Land of the Remembered (La Muerte, voiced by Kate Del Castillo) and the Land of the Forgotten (Xibalba, voiced by Ron Perlman), themselves niggling novios of sorts, bet on who will win Maria’s hand. Meanwhile, the evil Chakal (Dan Navarro) makes plans to attack the little village of San Angel.
Worthwhile messages are emphasized, including the importance of not forgetting the ancestors who have passed on. A wildly diverse soundtrack—the film is practically a musical—melds contemporary songs, traditional favorites and original music in a seamless fashion. You won’t likely hear music by Radiohead, Placido Domingo, or Rod Stewart in another animated film anytime soon.
While the pacing is a bit over-anxious, and the multiple storylines never coalesce into anything as witty or moving as most Pixar output, “The Book of Life” is so inventive and its characters so strongly defined that it must be celebrated for its sheer bravado and stylistic confidence.
Rated PG (for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images)