The Book of Life is an animated adventure focusing around the relationship between three childhood friends, Manolo (Diego Luna), a guitar-playing dreamer, Joaquin (Channing Tatum) a boisterous scallywag intent on living up to the memory of his warrior father, and Maria (Zoe Saldana), the object of the boys’ affection. The boys are separated from Maria when she is sent to boarding school, but they are later reunited as adults. Manolo is still a guitar-playing dreamer, however he has to hide both aspects of his character from his overbearing father who is disappointed in his son’s Matador skills. Joaquin has grown up to be a revered war hero, loved by all and Maria has grown into a feisty, strong and beautiful young woman.
Meanwhile, down below in the Land of the Remembered (a fun party dimension where people’s loved ones go and live happily ever after) and The Land of the Forgotten (full of lost despairing souls with no happiness or fun), rulers Xibalba (Ron Perlman) and La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) have struck a wager on which boy will win the love of Maria. The winner gets to rule the Land of the Remembered and the loser must rule The Land of the Forgotten. However, Xibalba is so desperate to rule the Land of the Remembered that he of course cheats, killing Manolo and sending him into the Land of the Remembered to leave Joaquin free to win her hand.
Manolo must strike a new wager with Xibalba and face his worst fear in order to get back to the world of the living, save the town from impending doom and win the girl of his dreams.
This movie is a little weighed down by the intricacy of the plot and while there are quite a few laughs there is a sense that these laughs could have been taken further. However, my biggest concern is that while Maria is strong in character, her only real purpose in the film is to serve as a love interest, and while the film contains more stereotypes than one can count, it does make good use of Mexican folklore, culture and history, delivering something a little different. It is also much less predictable than other movies of its kind, promotes good values to children and encompasses beautiful and vibrant visuals throughout. The characters are also sassy and well-voiced. Tatum is a standout.
I did find it a little long for kids but this was mostly due to the convoluted plot having to slowly untangle itself but it’s a visual feast and a lot of fun.
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