Movie review (published by Geek Ireland, October 27th)
Colourful sugar skulls, marigolds and the imaginative universe of Mexican El día de los muertos -the day of the dead- inspire Jorge R. Gutiérrez’s first film for the big screen.
The story of The Book of Life, shared by a mysterious museum guide, is the tale of three close friends: Manolo (Diego Luna), María (Zoe Valdés) and Joaquín (Channing Tatum). Manolo and Joaquín are both in love with María, who is sent to Europe to become ‘a lady’. María's return a few years later is the cause of the confrontation between her friends, who compete to gain her love. Nothing too revolutionary so far, but here is the twist and the disturbing secret behind the scenes. La Muerte, Queen of the Remembered, bets against Xibalba -who rules the World of the Forgotten-, as she is certain Manolo will triumph over Joaquín to conquer María's heart. But this is not just a love story or a tale about a silly gamble; this is an adventure that may bring an end to humankind, which is, unfortunately, in hands of these two volatile creatures from the other side.
The Book of Life is delightful: the character design and the worlds we see throughout the story are visually stunning. While the museum parts are not particularly interesting, the wooden figurines -used to represent those living in the town of San Angel- and the Remembered -inspired in the mentioned sugar skulls- are an absolute treat. The 3D version enhances its very detailed design and takes the audience's experience a step forward, as it did with Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009). The characters in the land of the Remembered have a slight resemblance to some of Tim Burton’s latest creations, but their aesthetic is so much more astonishing.
For those less familiar with the festive tone of El día de los muertos, it may come as a surprise a children's movie can come from the celebration of the dead. The explanation is simple, in Mexico, remembering who have departed is a way to keep them alive. Mexican folklore does not only make possible this wonderful movie, but enriches the stimulating colour palette and the visual aspects of it. This is a film not only for the small ones, but for anyone: though you may be in danger of coming out of it with a bit of a visual sugar-high.
A general audience may also enjoy pop references such as Creep sang by conflicted Manolo, forced to become a bullfighter to continue with the family tradition. Mumford & Sons’ I Will Wait is also featured, but with a mariachi taste. And let’s not forget to mention the traditional Cielito lindo, sang by Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, no less. These songs, a wink to those forced to bring the little ones to a Halloween movie, are the source of comic gags, and fit naturally in Gustavo Santaolalla’s score.
The Book of Life has first class talismans: Ron Perlman, pop music, Oscar winner’s soundtrack, Diego Luna's charm and of course, Guillermo del Toro's blessing. Jorge R. Gutiérrez takes a brave approach to animation, incorporating Mexican folklore elements and spinning them off to create one of the most spectacular animated films of the last few years.
In this globalised world, in which we forget to pay attention to the cultural wealth that vibrates all over the globe, it’s refreshing to receive a title that not only familiarises us with other traditions, but that does so in an engaging way for all ages. This is a real Halloween treat; do not miss it for the world! n, it may come as a supfestive tone of this tradition, it may come as a sup