The new animated film, THE BOOK OF LIFE, may be one of the biggest surprises of the year. Producer Guillermo Del Toro and director Jorge R. Gutierrez bring audiences a truly enchanting and visually exciting story of life, love and death. Paying tribute to the Mexican celebration of “The Day of the Dead,” the movie’s themes teach us to honor the memories of our loved ones that have passed on, while also encouraging us to live life in our own way. Continue reading for more of our spoiler-free THE BOOK OF LIFE review.
The film opens when a museum tour guide (Christina Applegate) decides to tell a very special story to a young group of kids. It’s the story of Manolo (Diego Luna) and his best friend Joaquin (Channing Tatum) as they compete for the love of Maria (Zoe Saldana). Things begin to get complicated when their competition for Maria’s love becomes a wager in the afterlife between the gods La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) to see who will rule over the “Land of the Remembered.”
The amazing thing about the film is how the director, Jorge R. Gutierrez, is able to create an incredible balance between the visuals and the story. Every moment is filled with vibrant colors and stunning images. The attention to detail in the production design, as well as the textured wooden doll concept for the characters is beautifully rendered. However, as beautiful as it is to look at, this never distracts attention away from the fully realized story that is being told.
Both Gutierrez and his co-screenwriter Douglas Langdale do their best to give all the characters their own distinct personalities and stay away from some of the cliché’s we so often see in films today. For example, even though the story has the two best friends competing for the love of Maria, she is never kept in the background as a prize for them to chase after. She is given a very feisty and free-spirited personality and although we know she might end up with either Manolo or Joaquin, there’s a true sense that she would be perfectly fine taking care of herself.
Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Channing Tatum do a great job in adding some genuine feelings to the characters, making it easy for the audience to connect to the emotions that are the true driving force of the story. Additionally, the supporting cast of Hector Elizondo, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman and Kate del Castillo are all very good in their supporting roles, while Ice Cube adds some real fun to the character of the Candle Maker.
One thing that especially stood out to me was the use of the museum’s tour guide telling the tale as a framing device. Reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s enchanting “The Princess Bride,” THE BOOK OF LIFE uses this to an amazing effect. It helps to draw us into the story, while also keeping us grounded in the real world. More importantly, it gives the children in the audience a little relief when the story decides to take on a darker tone. At this point, the film cuts back to the museum in order to get the children’s reactions to the story, lightening the mood with a little bit of humor.
With THE BOOK OF LIFE, director Jorge R. Gutierrez has created a visually stunning film, which tells a magical story that will entertain children and adults alike. It’s a beautiful reminder to everyone that we should always cherish the memories of the people we have loved and lost, while also making sure to continue living life in the best way that we can.