Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Movie Review - The Book of Life

The Book of Life (2014)
Featuring the vocal talents of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Kate del Castillo, and Ice Cube
Directed by Jorge R. Gutiérrez

Although visually stimulating, The Book of Life falls into a similar trap I've noticed lately of animated movies being unable to create an appropriate denouement at their conclusions.  It's a bit surprising actually as The Book of Life is quite solid at creating a love triangle between its three main characters, but when it treks into the folkloric and light-hearted Mexican "underworld" in the film's second half, the relationships are muted in a way that is detrimental to the flick's emotional impact.

The film is narrated by museum guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) who is showing a group of rambunctious kids artifacts related to the Mexican folktales of The Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten.  The former is ruled over by the lovely La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and is inhabited by the souls of dead who are remembered by those still living making the atmosphere a fun party, vibrantly colored, and full of vigor.  The latter is where those who are forgotten dwell in darkened shadows hiding from ruler Xibalba (Ron Perlman).  At first, I was irritated by the set-up of the museum guide narrator, but as the film progressed, I appreciated the mini-historical aspects her character brought to the story...although I can't help but think that in a better scripted and thought out film this still may not have been necessary.

Nevertheless, La Muerte and Xibalba have a bit of a love-hate relationship going on, constantly battling one another for supremacy.  Upon one of the their visits above ground, they come across Manolo, Joaquin, and Maria -- a young trio of kids who are quite fond of one another with the two boys obviously harboring some love for Maria.  La Muerte and Xibalba make a bet -- if Manolo weds Maria when they get older, Xiblaba can no longer come to the surface and mess with human affairs; if Joaquin weds Maria, Xibalba will take over the Land of the Remembered and La Muerte will be forced to reside in the Land of the Forgotten.  As the kids grow older, Manolo (Diego Luna) becomes a sensitive guitar player who is forced to become a bullfighter by his father, whereas Joaquin (Channing Tatum) becomes quite the ladies' man, known for his machismo and his strength in battle.  Maria (Zoe Saldana) finds herself torn between the two men, both of whom have a genuine love for her.

Well-voiced, the trio of main characters is charming and quite enjoyable to follow.  Additionally, I found the vocal talent of Kate del Castillo and Ron Perlman as the two underworld gods to have an amusingly humorous rapport.  Animation-wise, The Book of Life looks quite interesting.  Since museum guide Mary Beth is telling the story based on artifacts, the characters of Maria, Manolo, Joaquin, La Muerte, and Xibalba all look as if they're wooden dolls -- which actually isn't as weird as it sounds.  In fact, it's a rather ingenious move that gives the film some much needed oomph.

Unfortunately, a major aspect of the film when one of our trio of lovebirds visits the underworld fails pretty miserably and severely hampers the final half of the movie.  There was potential here for something really unique and amusing and while that first adjective still is maintained, the film doesn't keep up it's promise of being boisterously fun.  The Book of Life isn't bad, but it's a bit disappointing considering all the positives it had in its favor.

The RyMickey Rating:  C

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