The Halloween season is here and the movies don’t always have to be about what scares you the most. Sometimes it can be all about a good animated movie with the themes focused on this time of year. THE BOOK OF LIFE is directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo del Toro. It’s a much-needed breath of fresh air into the animated film genre. I had the chance to see it in 3D during its opening night. The movie reminded me, at least animation wise, of the opening sequence of del Toro’s HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY.
The movie opens with a few bad kids being brought to a museum on a field trip and they’re greeted by the tour guide, Mary Beth (Christina Applegate). She brings them to a special section dedicated to the Mexican holiday named Dia De Los Muertos (translated as The Day of The Dead) and shows them the Book of Life. The book has every person who has ever lived within its pages.
She tells the kids a story of how there is the gods of the afterlife: La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), who is the ruler of the Land of the Remembered where the spirits live on with their memories kept by their loved ones, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who is the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten where the forgotten souls are lost into nothingness. There is also the great overseer of all the living named the Candle Maker (Ice Cube).
The focus of Mary’s story are the three humans named Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). All of them are from a little town in Mexico named San Angel. The two boys are constantly showing off for Maria, but which one does she choose: Manolo, the son of a poor bull fighter, or Joaquin, the son of a dead hero who defeated a terrible bandit named Chakal. Xibalba and La Muerte make a bet as to who will win Maria’s heart: La Muerte chooses Manolo and Xibalba chooses Joaquin. Maria is sent off to be educated in Spain, leaving her two suitors in Mexico. Fast forward years later and Maria returns to the town. When the boys — who are now men — find out, they know that they will have to once again compete for her love. Will she choose the cocky hero or the passionate guitar player?
This movie is excellent. I’m a sucker for good animation and this is so different from most of the stuff out there. During the segments with the kids in the museum, the CGI is your average models with an almost clay-like feel. The animation really shines with the story being told about characters in the Book of Life.
During the story portion of the movie, the characters look carved out of wood. They’re puppet or doll-like with metal joints and hinges as well as a blocky feel. Even the men have a definite separation in their faces where the five o’clock shadow is. It’s carved just a little darker. Everything feels organic and smooth and the detailing is incredible. From the bullfighter outfits to Joaquin’s uniform with all of his medals, there is nothing that has been overlooked or glossed over at all. In the Land of the Remembered, the animators raise the bar even more with the detailing. The rich history and folklore of the Mexican people is translated into what they believe to be the equivalent of heaven. There are the skulls, ancient temples, and so much more that I couldn’t even begin to list it all.
THE BOOK OF LIFE is definitely a family film with some subtle adult jokes that kids would never catch. This may have been a trial run for Guillermo del Toro’s long awaited PINOCCHIO with the characters looking like wood and created with perfection. Like I said, the animation is stunning and the way to see this is in 3D. It isn’t a 3D conversion, so the depth is absolutely incredible. I highly recommend checking this one out and not missing it on the big screen.