Movie Review: “The Book of Life” – Celebrating Life

Written by Angela November 01, 2014

book2Chances are that for most of us, festive song, vibrant colours and exuberant dancing are not exactly the first things that come to mind when faced with the topic of death. During this murky month of October, death and all its constituents are particularly depicted as bleakly as possible to incite the standard spirit of Halloween dismay. In the midst of this, “The Book of Life,” directed by Jorge Gutierrez, comes as a welcome jolt to the system. With electrifying visuals and zippy energy, this warm and bright family movie is the perfect remedy to combat the chilly autumn blues.

Once upon a time, La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), the overlord of the Land of the Remembered, and her consort Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, visit the Mexican town of San Angel during the Day of the Dead and make a wager over who will win the heart of a young girl named Maria (Zoe Saldana). Should Manolo (Diego Luna), a guitar strumming bull fighter with a heart of gold, win over his best friend Jaoquin (Channing Tatum), a confident mustachioed soldier, Xibalba will make and keep a promise to never meddle in the affairs of man again. But if Jaoquin marries Maria, La Muerte will be forced to give up her reign over the the Land of the Remembered, where the remembered souls of the dead happily endure in the hearts of the loved ones they left behind. Maria’s true love may technically be the deciding factor, but when the gods are the ones placing bets on fate, you can be sure that some mystical mischief and otherworldly adventure are bound to ensue.

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“What is it with Mexicans and death, anyway?”

While a number of family films hinge on their screeching pop culture references in a near-desperate attempt to come across as hip, “The Book of Life” calls upon traditional Mexican folklore to develop the foundation of its story. Some background: Dia de Muertos is a Mexican holiday that lasts from October 31st to November 2nd, tying itself to both the religious observance of the Hallowmas season, and the ancient Aztec ritual that pays tribute to the queen of the underworld. During this time, gifts and prayers are offered to the dead, and their memory is paid special attention to by friends and family. As opposed to the Anglo-American dictum that the worlds of the living and the dead are wholly divided, this practice is based in the belief that there is a strong, sacred connection between those above and below. It is from this merry spirit which “The Book of Life” draws its themes, thus making it one of the most upbeat Halloween movies to date.

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“Don’t try to take it all in at once.”

It’s clear from the trailers that every aspect of this movie’s animation is gorgeous and richly detailed, from the character designs to the backgrounds. As a 3D experience, it glows. But the spastic canter of the overall film leaves one’s head spinning as it squeezes an entire mythos, a musical, a love triangle, an adventure quest, a spaghetti western and a coming-of-age tale all under a thinly devised frame narrative, making it a thing of wonder that any child not overly distracted by the pretty colours could comprehend any of the plot’s muddled developments. The multifaceted nature of the film makes it challenging for even an adult audience to give a damn about any of its events, considering that it doesn’t take long for the scenery to take over as the main attraction of this otherwise hyperactive feat.

Despite the confusion, there are several moments in the film that capture the intended tone perfectly, whatever it may be at that given time. For most audiences, this will do. “The Book of Life” is an ambitious romp that attempts to make sure there’s plenty of treats for everyone this Halloween. The trick is to not get overwhelmed by its intense enthusiasm.

My Rating: 6.5/10

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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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