I have to be honest, “The Book of Life” wasn’t even on my radar of movies to watch. I didn’t know a thing about this movie. I’m not sure if that’s because there was very little push from the studio in promoting it, or if it was lost among other movies playing. Either way, it was a movie I virtually cared nothing about. I do remember my daughter getting extra credit in school if she saw it and wrote a report but even then, I had no interest in seeing it (Sorry, Faith!).
Man was I wrong.
Released in October of 2014, “The Book of Life” is a story that many of us are familiar with. A young man, Manolo, is torn between following his heart and living up to his families’ dreams and expectations of him. Set a long time ago in Mexico, it starts with three friends who are separated and given a life to live, according to each of their families’ wishes. Manolo (Diego Luna) is to become a bull fighter, who has a passion for music, Joaquin (Channing Tatum) who’s a hero in his hometown, and Maria (Zoe Saldana) who is the object of affection for both Manolo and Joaquin.
This sets the stage for the rulers of the underworld to make a wager. La Muerte (Kate de Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) have a long standing bet on who will ultimately win the heart of Maria. Xibalba, in fear of losing, decides to take matters into his own hands, which ultimately leads Manolo on a journey through three worlds, hoping to be reunited with his love.
“The Book of Life” is the directorial debut for filmmaker Jorge R. Gutierrez, although Guillermo del Toro, the film’s producer, was more heavily pushed by the film’s marketing department. Reel FX Creative Studios, the studio behind Free Birds, provided the character and world design.
From a story standpoint, there isn’t much new or fresh. It’s a surface level tale of personal struggle, love, heroism, and great odds. While it didn’t offer great depth in the story, each of the characters were fleshed out enough to get you involved. Each actor voiced their characters well, with Channing Tatum being the odd man out. While many had authentic, or a good/fake, Mexican accents, Tatum did not. That made him feel a little out of place whenever he spoke. Overall, while not a new story, it was just enough to keep you interested in the movie.
The greatest aspect of this movie was the visual effects. I don’t think I’ve seen this level of detail in n animated movie in recent memory. It really shined when Manolo visited the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten. I’ve personally always appreciated art done in the Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) style, and this movie did not cut corners. The colors throughout were vibrant and, at times, over the top, which further showcased the visual appeal of this movie.
Overall, “The Book of Life”, while not a hit in the theaters, was a hit in our house and one I believe adults and kids alike will enjoy. It had all of the qualities of a kids movie, without being too childish and at the same time, set a new standard for animation films, in regards to the quality of the visual effects.
I recommend checking it out, at the very least Red Box it. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed (bring some kids along).