Book of Life Review

poster from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

Fury, The Best of Me, and Book of Life came out this week. I’m tired of World War II movies about Heroic Americans in general and Brad Pitt specifically. Nicholas Sparks movies tend to make me want to punch his lights out. Book of Life is a cute cartoon about dead things created by Jorge R. Gutierrez, a Guillermo del Toro student. No brainer.

Two best friends, a soldier and a musician, compete for the hand of the same girl while the king and queen of the dead wager on the outcome.

In most respects, Book of Life is pretty good. It’s pretty original. The story is pretty tight. Characters are pretty likeable. It’s got a pretty cute side kick. The message to kids is pretty relevant. Where it really shines is in the visuals. Every inch of the screen is filled with something bright and intricate, which will either give you a headache or make you want to buy it as poster art.

The tale is presented as a school-type lesson being taught to kids in the present, which I found distracting and irritating. Not only do we have a narrator (Christina Applegate) breaking into the story all the time but the school kids keep interjecting dumb comments at inopportune times (a bit like in Princess Bride). I wished they would all just shut up. Surely audiences aren’t so history-adverse that we need to tie EVERYTHING into the present.

Tour guide from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

Blah blah lesson blah

Anyway the real story centers around Maria (Zoe Saldana), Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) on two Days of the Dead. The first is when they’re swashbuckling children who catch the eye of the king and queen of the dead. La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), queen of the Land of the Remembered, wants her counterpart Xibalba (Ron Pearlman) from the Land of the Forgotten to stop interfering in the affairs of man. She bets him her throne that Manolo will marry Maria, while Xibalba backs Joaquin.

Xibalba and La Muerte from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

I promise I won’t cheat… much.

After letting all the town’s pigs loose Maria and her majorly adorable pet pig Chuy are sent away to grow up in a convent, leaving Joaquin and Manolo to be molded into what their father figures want them to be. Joaquin, with the help of Xibalba’s invincibility medal, becomes a soldier just like his dearly departed hero father and protects the town from the ginormous bandit Chakal (Dan Navarro).

Joaquin from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

Yes, that’s right, everybody cheer for my awesome mustache.

While Joaquin seems to actually WANT to be a soldier, Manolo, a champion bullfighter in training, would rather be a musician and is constantly sneaking off to play the guitar. The fact that he refuses to kill the bulls he faces makes his dad Carlos (Hector Elizondo) and Grandma (Grey DeLisle) grumble about “kids these days.”

Manolo from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

Kids these days with their singing and their not killing stuff. Pshaw!

Maria returns to town all grown up and pretty and the guys set about showing off as much as possible in the hopes of winning her hand. Thankfully, Maria herself isn’t just some fan-waving waif waiting to be carted off like the prize in a contest. As a kid, she always insisted she didn’t belong to anyone and during her time away, she learned how to look after herself.

Maria with a sword from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

Did I mention my tutor was Sister Mary Saber of the Fenceadictine Order?

When it becomes obvious that Maria prefers Manolo, Xibalba sends Manolo to the Land of the Dead. His dead mom Carmen (Ana de la Reguera) and his ex-bullfighter relatives (Danny Trejo and Placido Domingo) accompany him on a quest to find the Cave of Souls and the Candlemaker (Ice Cube) who controls the Book of Life so Manolo can return to the land of the living. Plot wise there’s a lot going on and most of it ties into writing your own destiny, which is the message this movie is trying to send to kids.

Sanchez family from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

You mean… I can be anything I want to be? WHAT A MODERN CONCEPT.

When I saw the trailer I thought it seemed like they were trying not to say ‘dead’ but the movie doesn’t dodge the issue at all. Manolo (in typical Disney movie fashion) has a dead mom, but all his dead relatives are characters in the film. People drop like flies and it’s not a big weepy deal because they all show up in the glittery, visually chaotic Land of the Remembered – or back on Earth if it’s the Day of the Dead. It only gets sad if no one remembers them and they end up in the gloomy Land of the Forgotten.

graveyard from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

So stop dicking around and go light candles for your relatives, kids.

Book of Life is one of those kids movies that’s got something for everyone. Kids will like the musical numbers but their parents will recognize the songs. Kids like bright glowy lights and parents appreciate intricate production design. Kids like characters who swashbuckle and fall on their butts while parents will smile at the undertone of romantic satire.

Manolo, Maria, and Chuy from the 20th Century Fox film Book of Life

What do you mean, I don’t win yet? I SANG A SONG!

So yeah, take your kids to see this movie. It’s cute, it’s original, it’s actually about people who aren’t all white (for once), the heroine isn’t totally helpless, and it’s pretty funny.

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