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Book of Life

What She said:

She

The 2014 animated flick, The Book of Life, is a tale wrapped up in a story. Confusing enough? Here's your basic breakdown. A group of troubled kids visit a museum as part of some sort of special program. They receive a private tour from a worker who shows them a collection of toys and puppets from the Mexican culture. Of course, they come with their own story. They represent a folklore tale of the town of San Angel.

Now you'll have to forgive me if I get some of the details wrong here. I'm not well versed in Mexican fairy tales. So, San Angel is a very special town. In this town, there is a young girl, Maria, and her two best friends, Manolo and Joaquin. On the festival of the Day of the Dead, two spirits, La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager regarding Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin. La Muerte believes that Manolo will successfully woo Maria and that they will one day marry. Xibalba sides with Joaquin. At stake, La Muerte has wagered here throne, and will switch roles with Xibalba if he wins.

Book of Life

Of course, Xibalba is a total cheater. He gives Joaquin the Medal of Eternal Life, and so Joaquin is able to dash through life without ever having to worry about getting hurt. This comes in handy, as the town is under constant threat of invasion from pillagers. Joaquin becomes the hero of the town. Manolo, on the other hand, has always been a sensitive soul. Even as a kid, he possessed a deep passion for music. Before being sent away to Spain, Maria gives Manolo a guitar that he cherishes and carries with him nonstop.

Time passes and everyone grows up. Maria returns to find Joaquin the hero that he was born to be, and Manolo struggling as a fledging bull fighter. Bull fighting is in his family, and so, although he would much rather work as a musician, Manolo is pressured into following in his father's and grandfather's footsteps. But Manolo doesn't want to kill the bulls, and when he refuses to do so, he loses the respect of his father. Maria takes a shine to Manolo, however.

Well, Xibalba cannot stand for this, and so he crafts a snake to bite Maria and render her unconscious. Manolo thinks she's dead, and gets hoodwinked into dying so that he can visit the Land of the Remembered to be with her. Once there, he realizes that Maria has not died, and that he must somehow get back to her. He turns to his predeceased family and some of the spirits of the afterlife to help him in his quest. In the meantime, Joaquin does everything in his power to appeal to Maria. He's not a bad guy, just head over heels for her. But he's also extremely traditional, believing in the longstanding role of women, and this does not resonate with Maria. Manolo has to get back to Maria before she settles for Joaquin, and the town of San Angel simultaneously finds itself under attack and needs all the help it can get. Can Manolo save the day? Will Maria choose Joaquin or Manolo? And who will win the bet?

Book of Life

For the layperson, the plot of The Book of Life may be a bit overwhelming or difficult to follow, especially for younger viewers. However, it sorts itself out, and at its foundation is actually quite basic. I'm honestly not sure if this tale actually exists in Mexican folklore and, if so, how true to its origin story this film is. But it's an intriguing premise that is pretty fun to watch.

The greatest strength of this film has got to be its animation style. The characters, scenery, and settings are rendered to look like drawings from a book. In some ways they are basic, but the overall look and feel is starkly complex. The lines are quite crisp and the colors gorgeous to look at. It feels uniquely Latin American in the sense that it is bright and festive. The film is almost a sensory overload; however, when you take into account the subject matter, it manages to work in a pleasing way.

Book of Life

I also liked the music in the movie. There are moments of song, with most of the singing coming from Manolo, but the melodies chosen are from modern songs that you can easily recognize. They may change the pacing of them a little, and give them some Latin flair, but they're still modern songs. It's a lot of fun.

The film features the voice talents of Diego Luna as Manolo, Channing Tatum as Joaquin, Zoe Saldana as Maria, Ron Perlman as Xibalba, Kate de Castillo as La Meurte, and Christina Applegate as the museum guide and narrator. There actually is a lot more star power in some of the peripheral characters as well, voices you may or may not recognize.

The Book of Life is not perfect, but it's satisfying and fun to watch. It's great for the entire family.

Thumbs up.

 

 

Book of Life


What He said:

He
Book of Life

A group of children are dropped off in front of a museum by their school bus. An employee of the museum, whom they are giving a hard time, starts to take them into the museum, but is interrupted by one of his coworkers. It’s a woman named Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) and she said that this group of children is special (meaning bad) and gets take through a special entrance into a special part of the museum (where bad kids go). She takes them through the wing of the museum that holds Mexican artifacts and proceeds to tell them a story from that culture’s folklore.

The story is about a group of children from San Angel, Mexico. Maria, Manolo, and Joaquin are best friends; however the boys like to compete for Maria’s (Zoe Saldana) affection. They are constantly outdo one another in order to prove to her they are each the one who deserves her the most.   Joaquin is a hero in the making. He’s fast, agile, and got all the right moves. He’s very good at saving the day. Manolo is an aspiring musician and a romantic guy in general, but he’s not to be outdone in the physical department. His family has a history of bullfighting and this gives him some quickness and agility of his own.

The two boys’ actions catch the attention of two spirits: La Muerta and Xibalba. La Muerta (Kate Del Castillo) is the ruler of The Land of the Remembered, which is essentially this culture’s version of Heaven. If someone alive still remembers and loves you, you spirit continues to live in The Land of the Remembered in what appears to be a permanent state of celebration. Xibalba is the ruler of The Land of the Forgotten. If nobody remembers/loves you, your spirit goes here and lives in a constant state of confusion; which sounds awful.

Book of Life

Anyway, the two spirits are intrigued by the boys love of Maria. They make a wager for control of both parts of the afterlife. La Muerta (Kate del Castillo) chooses Manolo (Diego Luna), thinking him to be the more romantic, sensitive, and appealing of the two. Xibalba (Ron Perlman) is just fine with that, because being a man, he thinks the heroic Joaquin is the more appealing choice. Did I mentioned that these two are husband and wife? They are estranged, and seem like the type of couple that is bickering even when they aren’t, but are currently not on great terms with one another. They remind me a little bit of how the gods and goddesses are portrayed in Greek mythology.

You can see why the boys like Maria. She is feisty and passionate. Her passion is actually what leads her to be sent away. She cannot stand to see a helpless little pig – who goes on to become her hilarious sidekick later on – be sent to the butcher, so she sets him free and causes a bit of chaos in the town.

Joaquin (Channing Tatum) eventually goes off to wherever it is heroes go to learn more about saving people, fighting bandits, and becoming all-around impressive individuals.

Manolo remains behind, where his father forces him to learn the ways of the family. Manolo is not interested in becoming a bullfighter and sneaks in some guitar-playing whenever he can.

Maria eventually returns to town and the boys, now grown men, resume their friendly rivalry to win over Maria. She seems more interested in Manolo, however her father is more impressed by Joaquin. Joaquin as a secret and Manolo struggles to find his place in the world. He desparately wants to be a musician and simply can’t bring himself to kill a bull. Couple that with a love triangle and all the characters have a lot going on in their lives.

I knew nothing of this movie going into it. I remember hearing that Guillermo del Toro was a producer of it and because of that, the sites I frequent were talking about it a great deal. He’s big in nerdy circles. Other than that, I knew nothing about this movie, which is sometimes refreshing.

I liked this movie for several reasons. First of all, this was one of the most vibrant and colorful animated movies I’ve ever seen. The animation of the characters threw me off at first – some had really exaggerated features – but the color won me over. The colors and patterns paired with the Mexican culture are absolutely gorgeous. You can tell they meant for this aspect to stand out. it was a visual treat.

Book of Life

The movie was pretty damn funny too. Channing Tatum was perfectly typecast as the macho, arrogant, and overconfident Joaquin. I don’t know if he was one growing up or simply looks it – he does sort of have a meathead face – but he’s able to portray the dumb jock/macho type very well; even in an animated movie. I also thought Diego Luna was fantastic as the sensitive and divided leading man Manolo. There was a lot of heart here. I loved both Genesis Ochoa (child version) and Zoe Saldana’s portrayal of Maria. She was feisty, funny, and a modern woman from top-to-bottom.

Kate del Castillo and Ron Perlman were also fantastic as the sometimes on sometimes off couple, who also happen to be rulers of the afterlife. They reminded me a lot of Persephone and the Merovingian from The Matrix sequels. They love each other one minute, hate each other the next. The passion doesn’t change between these two, but the emotion behind the passion does depending on their moods. Christina Applegate was excellent as the museum tour guide. I never realized this before, but she has a wonderful voice for storytelling/narrating. I found myself as intrigued as the children she was giving the tour were whenever she spoke.  I ever noticed how good she excels in this kind of work. There are a lot of veteran actors in this in the background and they bring it too.

I also appreciated the Mexican setting. It was great seeing more of a mythology and folklore I knew very little about. It was a very interesting and entertaining setting. It was something new and more importantly it was something new I enjoyed.

Rating: Thumbs up.

This movie review was written for your reading pleasure on February 15, 2015.