La Muerta (voice of Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman) are spirits of two very different worlds. La Muerta is the spirit who watches over the land of the remembered, while Xibalba rules over the land of the forgotten, which is what happens to those who have died and have no one alive to remember their memory. The Day of the Dead, which takes
place on November 2, and not on Halloween like many assume, plays a large role in the film and is pretty much the ground the story rests upon.
The two spirits, who love a good bet, wager on Manolo (voice of Diego Luna), Joaquin (voice of Channing Tatum), and Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana). It's a bit of the typical two boys are in love with the same girl kind of deal, or it starts off that way, at least. La Muerta bets that Manolo can steal the heart of Maria, while Xibalba backs Joaquin in winning her heart. When Maria is shipped off to Spain by her father, the three amigos each go their separate ways.
Joaquin becomes a decorated soldier, while Manolo becomes the bull fighter his father has always wanted him to be, to the young man's annoyance. After several years, Maria comes back to their little town and the two men each try to woo her into falling for them, but there are different kinds of forces working against them and an adventure lying ahead that none of them have ever anticipated.
One of the things which is very clear about this film is that it feels a lot more authentic than most you've probably seen in the last few years. What is meant by authentic, you ask? Well, for one, the story and its characters are very Mexican, and this is one of the film's many strong suits. It isn't afraid to bestow upon us a lot of Mexican lore and the story isn't infused with North American culture just to make people feel more comfortable with it, which is refreshing.
The animation alone is beautiful, the characters made out of wood which gives them a very puppet-like feel, but without coming off as tacky. The colors and the background are enough to keep you watching and entranced. The animators make sure to spend time on every detail, from background to the design of each characters' clothing.
The characters are memorable and fun, each in their own ways. The film even challenges traditional male and female roles, starting with Manolo, who'd rather play the guitar than fight and kill bulls for the rest of his life (because it's tradition and machismo). And even though the two men are competing for Maria, she's no damsel in distress, and she'd rather use her smarts and strong personality for other things than just to sit around and fulfill a traditional woman's role (cooking, cleaning, getting married, etc.).
Aside from the cinematography, the story is inspiring, funny, and twists its way through the narrative so that what you think at first will happen actually doesn't. The film's themes have
a depth to them and anyone can relate. The humor is great and oftentimes wonderfully random, which makes it even more entertaining. The film, on the surface, may seem like just a fun ride, but there's so much more to it.
The Book of Life is a light, yet strangely heavy piece of filmmaking. Some of the characters feel modeled after previous and well-loved animated characters (for example, Xibalba might remind you of Hades from Disney's Hercules), but they're all their own. The idea, the story, the themes, all come together to make one hell of a movie. One of the best this animated feature films this year.
Release Date: October 17, 2014 | Director and Screenwriter: Jorge R. Gutierrez | Story Editor: Douglas Langdale | Voice Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Ice Cube, Danny Trejo | Genre: Family, Animation | MPAA Rating: PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements, and brief scary images