THE BOOK OF LIFE:
A VISUAL TREAT OF BEAUTIFUL ANIMATION, HUMOR, AND HEART!
By Nico Beland
Movie Review: B+ (3 stars)
20TH CENTURY FOX
(From left to right) Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin in a magical world in The Book of Life
From Reel FX Creative Studios, the studio behind last year’s animated turkey “Classic”, Free Birds returns with their second full-length animated film, The Book of Life. Now at first I thought for sure it was going to bomb when I saw the trailer because of my deep hatred of Free Birds, but with the creative genius, Guillermo Del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, Pacific Rim) producing the film, there may be hope.
And to my surprise, unlike Free Birds, I enjoyed this film a lot, the animation is absolutely gorgeous, especially if you’re watching it in 3D, the characters are all very funny and have creatively unique designs, and the story is weird but very sweet, almost feels like a Tim Burton movie like Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The film is set in the Mexican town of San Angel and there are two powerful gods, La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo-American Visa, Under the Same Moon), the ruler of a magical world known as the Land of the Remembered, where people who are remembered by many go after they die, and Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman-Hellboy, Drive, Pacific Rim), the diabolical ruler of the depressing Land of the Forgotten. The two of them make a bet on two young children, Manolo Sánchez (voiced by Diego Luna-Nicotina, The Terminal, Milk), guitarist and son of one of the greatest Bull Fighters in Mexico, and Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum-21 Jump Street, Magic Mike, The Lego Movie), the dashing hero of the village, who have been best friends forever and are coincidentally both in love with the same woman, a beautiful and strong princess named Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana-Avatar, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy).
The two gods watch over the three children as they grow up and it doesn’t take long for their friendship to go downhill when Joaquin proposes to Maria and Manolo eventually loses his life while trying to impress her. He eventually wakes up in the magical realm, the Land of the Remembered, where he meets his ancestors who have all wrestled bulls, a humorous and powerful watcher of souls known as the Candle Maker (voiced by Ice Cube-Friday, 21 Jump Street, All About the Benjamins), and La Muerte herself on his quest to return back to the human world for his true love.
The film also stars Christina Applegate (Mars Attacks!, Anchorman, Jane Austen’s Mafia!) as Mary Beth, a museum tour guide telling the story of The Book of Life to a group of kids on a field trip.
Overall, The Book of Life is a major step in the right direction for Reel FX Studios; it really makes up for the disappointment of Free Birds. Unlike that movie, the animation is beautiful, the designs of the characters and worlds are beyond creative, it almost looks like the Tim Burton or Laika Animation style, the humor, while not every joke works, the majority of them got a big laugh out of me, the characters are all extremely likable, and the voice cast behind those characters are just as amusing.
One particular element I want to bring up is the villain, Xibalba, I love this character, the design is bizarre and yet creatively clever, Ron Perlman providing the voice is definitely a plus, and he’s funny and at the same time intimidating, I have never seen a character designed like this in a long time, almost reminds me of Aku from Cartoon Network’s Samurai Jack now that I look at the design.
Of course our protagonists are amusing as well, Manolo is a great main character for this film and you want to join him on his adventure to get Maria’s love, not to mention he has a wonderful singing voice and guitar skills, Joaquin is a humorous town hero and pretty much every time girls are breathless and fainting around him, pretty much sums up every woman’s reaction to Channing Tatum. Ice Cube as the Candle Maker is absolutely hilarious, besides the villain he is another one of my favorite character designs, his facial expressions remind me a lot of the stop-motion puppets made by Aardman Animations, and most of his fourth wall jokes and witty references got a big laugh out of me.
Finally there’s Maria, she’s a very fun character and thankfully she’s not a damsel in distress, she’s tough, seductive, funny, and she studied fencing. Her character is very similar to princesses like Merida from Brave, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, and Fiona from Shrek, seeing how she’s not just waiting around for her “Prince Charming” to come and look pretty.
So, you can tell I really enjoyed The Book of Life, it’s pretty much the complete opposite of Reel FX’s Free Birds, no, let’s not remember that movie, it belongs in the Land of the Forgotten, but I digress. Let’s just pretend Free Birds never existed and this is the first animated feature by Reel FX, because unlike that awful “Turkey Movie”, this movie really shows what the studio can do.
If you’re a fan of strange animated movies and want something overflowing with creativity and humor, chances are you’re going to love this movie because I certainly did, though I wouldn’t say it was as great as The Boxtrolls, but this comes pretty close, it’s a smart, creative, and breathtaking visual treat that is sure to please the eyes, mind, and imagination of everyone, young and old.