By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
From producer Guillermo Del Toro, this fun and delightful animated family movie comes just in time for Halloween and Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead), a Mexican and Hispanic holiday which honors loved ones who have passed away. This vibrant film incorporates a love story with a some of the traditions of Dia De los Muertos and an interesting fantasy story. Kids of most ages and cultures will find the movie thrilling and awe-inspiring. The adults escorting these kid will find some enjoyment in the movie as well.
The Book of Life tells the story of the love triangle of Manolo (Diego Luna), Joaquin (Channing Tatum), and Maria (Zoe Saldana). On one important Day of the Dead, the spirits of La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) make a bet on who will eventually win the hand of Maria. Manolo comes from a long line of bullfighters, but has his heart set on becoming a musician, a sensitive quality which attracts Maria. Joaquin, on the other hand, comes from a long line of soldiers, a protective quality which impresses Maria, but impresses her father even more. As the two men try to win Maria’s heart, Xibalba decides to give Joaquin an unfair advantage, as he will stop at nothing to win the wager.
Written by Jorge Gutierrez, Douglas Langdale, and directed by Gutierrez, The Book of Life will probably play out predictably for adults, but the children in attendance will definitely enjoy everything it has to offer. The same goes for the humor which is a mixed bag of silly jokes and clever writing, but that will matter little to the young ones watching and laughing. What had me most intrigued and enthralled was the gorgeous animation and the imaginative visualization of the fantasy worlds. The love story does offer some unexpected surprises and twists, but plays out as expected in the end. I also really enjoyed the mixture of more traditional sounding Mexican music and music from American pop culture. The characters and the voice talents who portray them definitely won me over and had me entertained.
I actually was rather impressed with Channing Tatum, who not only credibly voices a Mexican character, but also utilizes his comic timing wonderfully. Diego Luna offers some fine work as Manolo and proves he is no slouch when it comes to singing. Another standout is Ron Perlman who has the perfect vocal timbre for the wicked Xibalba. The film also features some fine voice work from Zoe Saldana, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Cheech Marin, Hector Elizondo, and many more. There are just too many to list here, but every single character in the film has a talented actor providing the voice.
Some of the visuals and content in the film may be a little strong or frightening for some younger audience members. The film does deal with death and dying, but does present both positive and negative sides to the subject. I’d recommend this film for ages six and older. However, if any parents feel that their younger children can handle the material, that is completely up to their discretion. I must recommend The Book of Life as an enjoyable matinee at the cinema for families. It may not be one of the best animated movies of the year, but it certainly is one of the fun ones.