Movie Review: Book of Life

Writers:  Jorge R. Gutiérrez, Douglas Langdale
Director:  Jorge R. Gutiérrez
Actors:  Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate Del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Carlos Alazraqui, Ana de la Reguera
Plot: A bus load of rowdy children arrive at the museum where they frighten the regular tour guides but are taken in hand by Mary Beth (Christina Applegate) who leads them through a secret entrance into the museum.  There she starts telling them about the book of life a magical book that has all the tales of Mexico in it.  She then introduces them to two gods.  One La Muerte (Kate Del Castillo) is the ruler of the remembered dead a happy place filled with fiestas, good food, and drink.  The other god Xibalba (Ron Perlman)is the ruler of the land of the forgotten a miserable place full of gloom where souls rot away into oblivion.

Xibalba is unsatisfied with his realm and challenges La Muerte to a bet.  If she loses then Xibalba will become the ruler of the remembered dead and she, La Muerte, the ruler of the forgotten dead.  She agrees but reminds him that the last time they did this he lost by cheating.  Searching for something to bet upon they spy three children Manolo (Diego Luna), Maria (Zoe Saldana), and Joaquin (Channing Tatum). Both boys vie for the attention of Maria and Xibalba bets La Muerte that Maria will marry Joaquin, La Muerte bets that Maria will marry Manolo.  But Xibalba unknown to La Muerte gives Joaquin a medal that will prevent harm or death to every happen to him.

The three children are set off on separate paths Manolo even though he prefers music is trained to become a bull fighter like all the males before him.  Maria is sent to Europe to become a lady, and Joaquin becomes a soldier like his father before him.

Now grown all three meet again Manolo has become a bull fighter( who can’t kill bulls) and sings with the local Mariachi band.  Maria has become a feminist sword fighting kung fu master.  Joaquin by the virtue of his magic medal has become the hero of the country.  Now that they are all together the two men continue to vie for Maria’s hand in marriage even though she doesn’t want to be married.

Xibalba isn’t done with his cheating ways, he tricks Manolo into thinking Maria is dead and says that the only way to bewith her is to die too.  Manolo agrees and Xibalba lets his poison serpent staff bite him twice causing him to die.  When he arrives in the land of the remembered dead a party is going on, he meets his dead family but can’t find Maria.  He goes to La Muerte’s castle only to find Xibalba there the new ruler seems that Maria was only a little dead and a kiss from Joaquin has awoken her.  With Manolo out of the way Maria has to marry Joaquin as a bandit chief is coming to destroy the town and Joaquin is the only one to protect the town if Maria marries him.  Manolo swears to return to the living and exposes the tricks that Xibalba has done to La Muerte.

I have a few problems with this movie.  One is that there seems to be a dearth of Hispanic music in a movie about a town in Mexico.  They have Manolo singing an Elvis song to Maria.  I don’t know it just seemed off to me.  The second thing is that the whole film seems to be pushing PETA.  Maria saves pigs to keep them from becoming the towns food source (tell me how many people in a tiny village can survive without one of their main protein sources?).  Manolo rejects his heritage of being a matador and when he is in the land of the dead his mother basically says that all the males in the family were idiots and the only smart ones comes from her side.  And last but certainly not least Maria.  How do you handle a problem like Maria?  She thinks being married to a man means that she some how becomes a second class citizen.  She was sent to Europe to learn to be a lady where she instead learns sword play and kung fu, in Europe, I’m sorry I can’t even suspend my sense of disbelief with that little tidbit.

Now the good is that this is beautifully animated and in a unique style I haven’t seen before.  I’d like to see more pieces animated similarly.  The story moves quickly and there are a lot of action scenes that will keep the interest of younger children.

Overall I am giving this a three star out of five it would have been two stars but the animation pushed it up a point.