Review – The Book of Life

Poster for 2014 animation The Book of Life

Genre: Animation
Certificate: U
UK Release Date: 24th October 2014
Runtime: 95 minutes
Director: Jorge R Gutierrez
Writer: Jorge R Gutierrez, Douglas Langdale
Starring: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Danny Trejo
Synopsis: Two spirits bet on the fortunes of a pair of lovesick men and the woman they both want to marry.

 

This year has been a bit of a bust for animated films. With the exception of sequel How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the pleasantly surprising Mr Peabody & Sherman, there hasn’t been much to shout about in the world od children’s cinema. This all looked set to change with the psychedelic Guillermo del Toro-backed animation The Book of Life. Unfortunately, it’s all razzle and no dazzle.

Guitar-playing romantic Manolo (Diego Luna) and macho hero Joaquin (Channing Tatum) have battled over the heart of Maria (Zoe Saldana) since they were young. The spirits La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) decide to amuse themselves by betting on which one of them will end up marrying her. But one of them is willing to play dirty to win.

There’s so much potential within The Book of Life. The visuals, from young animation studio Reel FX, are utterly stunning, with the brightness of children’s comedy combined with the off-kilter darkness of producer Guillermo del Toro. The film also benefits from a handful of fun Mexico-inflected renditions of popular songs, including ‘Creep’ by Radiohead.

| "I’m allergic to dying!"

However, there’s something missing from the film that is essential to crafting a good family movie – a heart. The Book of Life’s central conceit begins with the assumption that its main female character will end up marrying one of her two suitors, as if she has no autonomy at all. It’s obvious where the story is going, and the film doesn’t even really try to conceal it.

It also doesn’t help that the film isn’t nearly funny enough. There are a few sharp supporting characters, such as Ice Cube’s omnipotent deity and Manolo’s deceased family members, but there isn’t enough flair in the script to match the intrigue of the visuals.

The story doesn’t seem to quite know where to pitch itself. It’s clear that the film’s trump card is the rich underworld that it has created, but it chooses to spend far too much time mired in the love triangle of the living. The film is a graveyard of missed opportunities.

| "Kids these days, with their long hair and not killing stuff."

It’s unfortunate that The Book of Life is a misfire because this could have been the first chapter of a genuinely exciting, off-kilter animated franchise. If further films are made, more focus should be placed upon the worlds beyond the Land of the Living. That’s where the interesting side of the story is.

 

Pop or Poop?

Rating: Poop!

Given the credentials of the voice cast and some of the talent behind the camera, The Book of Life could and probably should have been a better film.

It limps its way through a predictable love triangle, when there’s a whole world of intriguing stuff going on in the twin underworlds.

The voice cast, though talented, make very little impact in their hopelessly underwritten roles. It’s yet another way in which the film fails to meet its enormous potential.

 

Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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