Based on Mexican Folklore and traditions, The Book Of Life is something of a curio as far as animated movies go. It has a U certificate which usually indicates the type of film you are going to get. It is normally a film that although suitable for all it really only appeals to the very youngest of cinema goers. Surprisingly The Book of Life is more than this with it’s story drawn from the day of the dead festivities. Not the usual subject matter for the under fives I think you will agree.
The film follows the fortunes of three protagonists as they try and find their way in the world. Manolo (Diego Luna), Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Maria (Zoe Saldano) are inseparable as children. They play together and on this particular day end up causing havoc in the town. Maria’s father sends her off to Europe to receive an education leaving Manolo to train as a bullfighter, like his father before him, and Joaquin to join the local militia to fight off the native bandits. Both boys long to marry Maria upon her return. This comes to the notice of two lords of the underworld. La Muerta (Kate Del Castillo) rules over the land of the remembered the home of the spirits of all those who have passed away and are still held dear to their living relatives. Xibalba (Ron Pearlman) rules over the land of the forgotten. They agree a wager to determine who will win the hand of Maria. The story comes to a head many years later on the day of the dead where the living world and the two underworlds come into contact in a grand adventure.
With visionaries like director Jorge Gutierrez and Guillermo Del Toro on board as a producer you can be assured that this will not be standard children’s animated film.It is very unique in every way. All of the characters are set up to look like wooden puppets which is unusual in itself. All of the ‘good’ characters are likeable and clean looking. Other puppets follow their character type with the bad guys suitably grimy and the sidekick Mariachi band and rotund and jolly.
The animation of the worlds is rendered very well. There is plenty of detail in every scene and the colour pallet is suitable for each location. The living world is bright and colourful. The land of the forgotten is shadowy and grey fitting in with its residents while the land of the remembered is like a neon party town where everything seems warm and inviting. Each land is stuffed full of Mexican styling and influence which add to the authenticity of the scenes. The 3D is mostly to add depth to the scenes and is rarely intrusive.
The main voice talent is all excellent with Diego Luna particularly good during the sequences where he is called on to sing. There is an array of talent on show with Ice Cube as the Candlemaker pretty much stealing every scene he is in. Cheech Marin, Danny Trejo and Placido Domingo add to the already impressive voice talent on show.
The film moves along at a pleasing pace which keeps the interest up for the younger members of the audience. The script is strong with elements for both children and adults to enjoy. With the character of Manolo wanting to be a musician instead of a bull fighter there are plenty of opportunities for songs. A lot of these are cover versions of popular songs done in a Mexican style. It works very well. In between the songs, there is a strong and vibrant score that lends the required mood to the film.
In between all of the colour and fun, there are some serious themes being addressed. The importance of family and the role that females play in this set up are to the fore. Few films push the point of the pivotal role of women within the family unit and it is refreshing to see it raised in an animated movie. In recent years with the rising interest in genealogy, the role that your ancestors play in your life is addressed. In effect, we are a product of our family’s past.
Overall, a surprisingly entertaining and enjoyable animated movie that is aimed at the younger members of the audience but has something for everyone. Recommended.