The Book of Life: Film Review
Vocal Cast: Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Ice Cube, Christina Applegate
Director: Jorge R Gutierrez
Imagine an animation where Tim Burton's Gothic sensibilities met with portions of computer Grim Fandango's aesthetics and the whole thing was meshed together with an infusion of Mexican culture and heritage as well as filtered through Guillermo Del Toro's eyes...
That in a nutshell is The Book of Life.
A story within a story, The Book of Life is the story of childhood pals Manolo (Luna) and Joaquin (Tatum) whose lives are intertwined by their love for Maria (Saldana). Their push and pull relationship catches the eye of two gods, La Muerte (Del Castillo) and Xibalba (Perlman) and forms the basis of a wager; if Maria chooses Manolo, La Muerte wins and if Joaquin wins her heart, Xibalba is triumphant....
The Book of Life is an unusual animation.
Its fiesta of Mexican culture, colours and vistas is a real blast to the eyes, and a sign that something different has been transposed to the screen as this Day of The Dead story is exposed to perhaps more culturally ignorant viewers.
Throw in some mariachi music themes of current stylings (such as Radiohead's Creep and Mumford and Sons I Will Wait) and you've got somewhat of a pinata of cinema that bursts vibrantly as it's cracked open on the big screen.
Utilising ancient Mexican mythology and fusing it with old Greek stories such as the Ancient Gods' squabbles and an Orpheus-like Quest are just the icing on this cake - which is perhaps just as well as the story isn't quite as strong as it could be, feeling in parts like it's been stretched somewhat thin.
The animation is sumptuous; a veritable pot pourri of wooden puppet CGI creatures mixes with the aforementioned Grim Fandango aesthetics when the movie heads to the Land of The Remembered to brilliant visual effect; purples, greens and other hues burst from the screen to make the resulting film feel like something we've never seen before.
Tatum adds another string to his acting bow as the animated blowhard Joaquin; Saldana brings wide-eyed sultry to Maria and Luna leads an everyday appeal as the sensitive bullfighter who can't kill but can deliver a killer tune. Perlman, del Castillo shine as Xibalba and La Muerte and Applegate blends it all together as the narrator / story hook.
The only bum note is adding in Ice Cube - his involvement seems to pander to the kids purely as his duffle-headed comments and goofball sensibilities sing out from the screen. It's a rare moment that misfires but sours part of this spicy mix.
All in all, The Book of Life is a vibrant chapter of different animation; its story may not be the strongest, but its visuals sing loudly from the screen and proffer something entirely - and welcomely - different.