La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) are the traditional rulers of the Mexican worlds of the dead; the world of the Remembered and conversely, The Forgotten. Far from being enemies though, the two enjoy a friendly rivalry, and place a wager on the fates of two young boys who are in love with the same girl. Knowing nothing of the wager, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) vie for the love of Maria (Zoe Saldana), as the fate of the underworld is in their hands.
The Mexican beliefs around The Day of the Dead have long held fascination for audiences; the idea that for one day of the year, beloved family members walk the earth to be with the ones they have left behind. Of course, this is something that is celebrated in cultures all around the world – including on our own dear isle, with the feast of Samhain – but the beautiful, bright and festive feel of Dia de los Muertos lends itself to a kids’ 3D adventure movie, so here we are.
The voice cast do a great job with their roles, and the banter between Perlman and del Castillo; as well as Tatum, Luna and Saldana is a lot of fun. The actors inject warmth into their characters, which keeps the audience on their side, since the story often moves at lickety speed.
Although the film is set around a wager between the guardians of the underworld, it never becomes ghoulish or macabre, instead focusing on celebrating the lives of those who have left us, rather than mourning the fact that they are gone. This is a valuable lesson for audience members of all ages, and one that is often referred to, but never hammered home. The film strives for comedy, mainly by throwing all of the dialogue at plot at the screen at an incredibly fast pace, and while many of the laughs land, many of them whizz past the audience too quickly to be laughed at. The change of setting halfway through the film, to the Underworld, helps matters, but once the story gets there, it feels as though the film was waiting to get there all along.
Director Jorge R. Gutierrez makes the characters in the film warm and engaging, and the style choices that were made not only reinforce that much of the action is a story within a story, but allows the story to move between our world and the underworld without making the characters look or feel different. In fact, the addition of Mexican Dia de los Muertos style imagery to those in the underworld just adds another layer to the film.
The Book of Life is a beautiful film with some gorgeous animation and worthy life lessons for kids. The characters are warm and engaging and the ghouls, while otherworldly, are never frightening. The film suffers, however, through incredibly speedy dialogue, which means that some of the jokes don’t land. Overall though, this is a fun and engaging film that’s a feast for the eyes and ears… Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ sung mariachi style is definitely a winner.