© Twentieth Century Fox of Germany GmbH

Manolo und das Buch des Lebens (The Book of Life)
U.S.A. 2014

Opening 12 Feb 2015

Directed by: Jorge R. Gutiérrez
Writing credits: Jorge R. Gutiérrez, Douglas Langdale
Principal actors: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate

A group of delinquent schoolchildren find themselves in a mysterious part of a museum and are told the epic tale of a bet between La Muerta (Kate del Castillo), the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. Xibalba is tired of his role of ruling over the bleak Land of the Forgotten and wishes to take over La Muerta’s role. The two spirits focus their attentions on a trio of friends, Manola (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana), and Joachim (Channing Tatum) and make a bet as to which man Maria would fall in love with. When Manolo finds himself in the Land of the Remembered after being tricked by the sly Xibalba, he must venture through the Lands of the Dead to find his way back to his love and save his home town.

The charm of The Book of Life comes not from its rather blasé love triangle story, but from the gorgeous animation and cultural heritage portrayed. The movie is split into two distinct parts, the “real” world, with a group of delinquent school children who are animated typically, and the “fictional” world of Manolo which is animated to look like Mexican folk art. This makes the world of Manolo stunningly beautiful, particularly when showing the Lands of the Dead, and it is the love and time that was obviously put into the animation which makes the film worthwhile.

However, considering the labor of love the animation must have been, it is rather unfortunate that more time was not put into developing a strong screenplay. There is the typical love triangle, fights between best friends over a girl, the girl being spunky, yet still acceptably feminine, and the stereotypical bad guys being bad for no good reason. There is nothing in this story that hasn’t been done a thousand times before, except now it takes place in Mexico. And, of course, there are some suitably stereotypical mariachi musicians (one of whom is voiced by Cheech Marin surprise, surprise) to lighten the mood. It is just so disappointing that there couldn’t have been a little bit more emphasis placed on the writing, because otherwise The Book of Life could have been truly great.

That the film focuses on Mexican heritage is still commendable despite its lackluster story, and the animation is truly spectacularly done. For these reasons, The Book of Life is still a worthwhile film to watch; it is just disappointing when one considers how easy it would have been to make it much better. (Rose Finlay)

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