Dark Animation: The Book of Life

I have rarely come across films that focus on cultures outside of simple European or American history. The Book of Life is definitely not one of those. It focuses on the mythology surrounding the country of Mexico, as well as one of its most famous holidays: the Day of the Dead. The film came out Oct. 17, and it is still in theaters if any of you are interested in seeing it once you have finished reading this.

Seeing the trailers for the movie was very exciting. The detail in animation was admirable as it was not like anything I had seen before. I thought that I would see the movie even if the story wasn’t any good if only to see the animation in action.

This assumption was wrong on my part as the story was fantastic, excellently paced and highly engaging. I loved seeing the mythology of Mexico played out as well as seeing the characters in action. The Book of Life has a very unique style of animation. The characters are very “boxy” and have the ball joints you’d find on a puppet.

The style is this way because a majority of the story is told through the use of puppets to a group of students visiting a museum. This makes for a very unusual cast of characters. This style is trademarked to the animator Jorge R. Gutierrez, whose work consists of “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera,” and “¡Much Lucha!” This is the first full-feature film that he’s done and his 14 years of work clearly show.

It’s clear that Gutierrez has a great love of his culture and history in Mexico. The film is steeped in the fantastic culture of the country and in the mythology regarding the afterlife. It also boasts the largest Latino cast of any animated film yet. The cast includes Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Kate Del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, Placido Domingo, Cheech Marin and Gabriel Iglesias. The non-Latino cast also includes big names such as Channing Tatum, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman and Ice Cube.

The story of the movie is that, while on an educational tour, a group of students hear a love story that takes place during the Day of the Dead. The story is of two men named Manolo and Joaquin who both fight for the heart of their female friend Maria. At the same time there are two deities, La Muerte and Xibalba, who see this and decide to place a wager on it. If Xibalba wins, he gains control over the Land of the Remembered which is where La Muerte rules. If La Muerte wins, Xibalba must promise to stop meddling in the affairs of mankind. From there we can see how the two men progress through their different lives and the different troubles they face in the fight to win Maria’s heart. The story takes many unexpected turns.

The movie soundtrack is fantastic. The movie itself contains a few mariachi-style covers of songs from back in the day, as well as a few lovely original tracks. The ambience songs also do a great job at demonstrating the moments of tragedy in different parts of the movie, as well as joyous moments. Most of the soundtrack was written and composed by Paul Williams.

Williams’ work includes “The Muppet Movie,” “The Secret of NIMH,” and also writing the song for the famous show “Love Boat.” His songs do an excellent job at creating an atmosphere with mariachi-style music, giving one the sense of being in Mexico, despite the fact that you’ve heard the song before. My favorite track is one titled The Apology Song, as it is one of the few original tracks in the film, and it tells of a sense of regret while playing along to the relaxing sounds on a guitar.

Going through the film there are plenty of instances where adults can find something to laugh at while it plays some slapstick comedy for the kids. It’s something that I highly recommend for family outings.

The movie can be used as a starting point to find out more about Mexico and its culture. The only part that I could find that’s especially dark is closer to the movie’s climax, where you find out just what it takes to go up against the deities Xibalba and La Muerte. There are some scenes that could make you close your eyes, however there is plenty of comedy in the film to balance it out so it isn’t that bad.

I highly recommend seeing the film in 3D if you can. It’s a great family film with plenty of moments for people of all generations.

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