The Book of Life Film Review

Film Review by Saskia Donnell
The Book of Life

The Premise
From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez comes an animated comedy with a unique visual style. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future.

The Review
‘The Book of Life’ is the first animated movie to surprise me in quite a while! I really wasn’t expecting much more than a slightly quirky paint-by-numbers kid’s film, but it was so much more.

The main ‘wow-factor’ was how stunning the film was visually. The characters themselves appear to be animated wooden toys, which seemed like a risky choice, but was pulled-off perfectly and kept the film feeling like you were being told a story. The ‘Land of the Remembered’ was especially impressive. It managed to be beautifully bright and colourful (giving a truly Mexican feel), but also had its dark edges to remind you that its inhabitants have all ‘passed on’.

The casting couldn’t be more perfect in my opinion. Zoe Saldana gave a very convincing performance as the independent and sweet Maria (it’s no wonder both the boys want to marry her). Channing Tatum voiced Joaquin - the strong, heroic and slightly thick best friend of Manolo (so basically Tatum played himself). However, the naïve and romantic Manolo, (voiced by Diego Luna) really was the stand out character.

The Book of Life was both hilarious and very moving at times. I was surprised to find myself tearing up in several scenes as it addressed some heavy issues, that most animated films don’t touch, with the right mix of sensitivity and humour. The funniest moments in the film were often when Manolo would burst into mariachi versions of contemporary songs (Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ will always have a totally different meaning behind it for me now). They were always unexpected and yet totally perfect for the scene.

The movie was let down by a storyline that felt very ‘safe’ and predictable. At times it felt like too many concepts were being squeezed in for them all to feel like they belonged and it definitely felt a little chaotic and rushed from time to time. A couple of characters like The Candlemaker (Ice Cube) were too stereotypical and jarred with the rest of the film.

The Verdict
This film is definitely suitable for the whole family and well worthwhile heading to the cinema to view in 3D (for the visual aspect alone!) If you can get past the fairly basic storyline I can guarantee you won’t have seen anything quite like it before.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 2nd April 2015
Rating: PG – Contains violence
Duration: 95 minutes 
Genre:  Animated Family
Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Director: Jorge R. Gutiérrez (Debut Feature Film)

The Extras
In the spanish dubbing of the movie, La Muerte is called "La Catrina", this is obviously "Posada's Catrina" a popular iconic skeletal lady that has become associated with the festivities of the Dia de los Muertos. Her main attribute is a gorgeous hat. In the movie, the modern mexican icon (La Catrina) and the classic icon (Lady Death), are fused in a single role as the ancient Mayan goddess of death, ruling over one of the lands of the dead.

Diego Luna does the dialogue for both English and the Spanish dubbing versions of the film.

Indie writer/director Paul Chart ('American Perfekt') worked with Gutierrez on a final re-write just before production began. The original title of the story was, "El Matador", changed to, "Day of the Dead", changed again to it's current, "The Book of Life".

When the town is first being described, among the townspeople are Manny Rivera, Fridha, and Grandpapi/Puma Loco from El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera (2007), a cartoon series created by Jorge R. Gutiérrez. Grandpapi is to the left of the screen while Manny and Fridha are to the right (the girl with blue hair and red goggles is Fridha). In addition, White Pantera (Manny's father) is later seen as one of the skeletons in the Land of the Remembered.

The original songs "I Love You Too Much" and "The Apology Song" were co-written by Paul Williams. According to director Gutierrez, when he approached Williams, the composer assumed it was because he had co-written the Oscar-nominated "Rainbow Connection" for The Muppet Movie (1979) and was surprised to find that it was because of Gutierrez's love for Williams' rock musical Phantom of the Paradise (1974)