Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Movie Review: "The Book of Life" (2014)

Movie"The Book of Life"
Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hour, 35 minutes
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A group of unruly children are taken on a field trip to a museum where they are given a special tour of a private wing which holds The Book of Life. Their tour guide Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) reads the children a story from the book. The story starts when La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, make a wager about a group of children named Manolo (Diego Luna), Joaquin (Channing Tatum), and Maria (Zoe Saldana), and which boy will win Maria's heart. La Muerte picks Manolo because he is kind and generous, and Xibalba picks Joaquin because he is brave and strong. After Maria is sent to Europe to learn how to become a proper lady, she returns several years later a strong and kind woman, and Manolo and Joaquin must do their best to battle each other in order to win her affection. When Manolo looks to be winning the wager, Xibalba interferes and has his snake bite Maria. After being convinced that she is dead, Manolo gives up his own life in an effort to be with her in the afterlife. When he learns she is not actually dead, Manolo must find a way back to the land of the living to try to reunite himself with his true love.

Cartoons and animated movies have been impressing us quite a bit this year. "The Book of Life" is another animation attempt that did not disappoint. The overall story of the film is one that we think seeks to enlighten children about the Day of the Dead, a holiday most adults don't even know anything about. It also does its best to teach audiences about a gigantic part of Mexican culture which is often overlooked. It also has a really strong message for kids and adults alike about not forgetting those who have left us, as well as striving to be your unique, individual self regardless of what society or others tell you to be. It's hard not to get emotionally invested in a movie that you can tell has a lot of heart and a lot of fun about it, even if you're an adult and have no children of your own. To us, that is what makes a great film.

Besides this, we can't think of more colorful film in recent months, maybe even this year. From the opening sequence, we could tell we were going to be in for a visual treat, but we expected no less from Guillermo del Toro, the producer of the movie. The animation design was splendid and it was really nice to see a bit of a deviation from the typical cartoon/animated style. The story of the Book of Life is acted out through wooden dolls, and those outside the main story line itself are normally animated, big-eyed characters. The wooden dolls aspect gives the film another cultural tie, as marionettes have been used in Mexican culture. Since this film did relatively well at the box office its opening weekend, we hope this will push del Toro into not only producing more movies like this, but crafting more of these different, unique animated works himself.

One thing I had not expected was the amount of music that this film contained. We obviously knew one of the characters played guitar, but there were a couple of original songs as well as numerous covers of popular songs that really fit in well with the entire theme of the movie and added some very excellent scene (though we preferred the original pieces more). It was also nice to hear that the actors who voiced their characters we're also doing the singing work as well. And while we're on the subject, we thought each and every actor in this movie did a very good job and fit in their respective roles. Diego Luna had the perfect voice for Manolo, a semi-confident man who lived in his father's shadow and was attempting to become his own person by deviating from his hundred year old family lineage, though he had the weaker singing voice. Channing Tatum also did a fantastic job playing basically himself, just animated: cool, confident, self-absorbed, and always trying to win a woman's heart with his over-ambitious charm. Zoe Saldana also did very well as the strong, independent Maria who didn't take crap from anyone and always put others before her. Together, with the addition of some notable names like Gabriel Iglesias, Danny Trejo, and Cheech Marin, the entire vocal cast seemed like it belonged.

As we mentioned, this movie will be one that works for kids as well as adults. It is fast paced, action packed, culturally and historically informative and a visual delight. This is worth seeing on the big screen for the vibrant colors alone!

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 77%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!

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