Co-written and Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Since children two boys, Manolo Sánchez (Diego Luna) and Joaquín Mondragon Jr. (Channing Tatum), have been vying for the heart of Maria (Zoe Saldana). La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) use this romantic rivalry as a source of a wager.
It’s a simple love triangle story. Since youth Manolo and Joaquín have a been competing for the heart of the free-spirited and independent Maria. One does it through his natural gifts of music and being himself while the other users underhanded methods and supernatural help provided by Xibalba in order to win her heart.
Manolo is the son in a family of great bullfighters, but his heart is not in it. He has no desire to kill the bull. Instead he wants to be a musician. Joaquín is not truly bad. He is perhaps the “weaker” of the two in that he is willing to take short cuts in order to accomplish his goals. Both have storied familial legacies they are expected to live up to and they both feel the pressure though Joaquín is more accepting of it than Manolo is of his.
Maria is not beautiful damsel waiting to be saved nor is the character in need of a man. She chooses to be with someone. She is strong and indepent and perhaps even a little headstrong.
Book of Life is about following what you truly want and being true to yourself. Do not let others force you to be something you are not. It also touches on the redemptive power of love. Manolo rival for the affection of Maria, when his charade is revealed, realizes he was never worthy of her heart all along and knows he must do the right thing.
The film has a unique look to it. The living characters are done in a way where they look like wooden puppets. It creates a fanciful and whimsical design that melds nicely with the look of the film’s narrator.
For the dead and their realm, the animators embraced the Mexican Day of the Dead look in much of the designs. The brightly painted skulls and vibrant colors are everywhere there.
The movie is visually stunning. It is beautiful to look at. It incorporates visual as well as thematic aspects of the Day of the dead into the story. The climax of the film ties directly into it in that if the Bandito wipes out the town no one will be alive to remember the dead and they will be forever banished to the Land of the Forgotten which looks like a very miserable and lonely place.
The film itself gets its name from Book of Life in which everyone’s story is written and is guarded by a character called the Candle Maker (Ice Cube). One of the plot points is Manolo’s story in the Book of Life is blank and can be rewritten by himself.
They incorporate popular songs into the film but use a more Latino flair. I did not quite catch it at first. I am not a big fan of converting songs to other styles. It does not always work. Sometimes you can slow down the tempo but to go into a whole different style of music can be difficult to do effectively. Here they pull it off seamlessly. They are “I Will Wait” (Mumford & Sons) performed here by Diego Luna, Joe Matthews and Gustavo Santaolalla; “Creep” (Radiohead) performed here by Diego Luna and Gustavo Santaolalla; “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” (Rod Stewart) performed here by Gabriel Iglesias and Gustavo Santaolalla; “Just a Friend” (Biz Markie) performed here by Biz Markie (AGAIN!) and Cheech Marin.
They assembled a fantastic voice cast. Some of those are:
- Héctor Elizondo voices Manolo’s father Carlos Sánchez.
- Christina Applegate voices Mary Beth who serves as a museum tour guide for the children at the beginning of the movie and is one of La Muerte’s disguises as well as being the film’s narrator.
- Danny Trejo voices Manolo’s dead grandfather Luis.
- Plácido Domingo voices Jorge Sánchez who is Manolo’s dead granduncle.
- Gabriel Iglesias voices Pepe Rodríguez who is the largest of Manolo’s three musician friends.
- Cheech Marin voices Pancho Rodríguez who is the medium sized of Manolo’s three musician friends.
Book of Life is a wonderful family film. It has great music and a solid story and is a real treat to watch. I recommend you see this.