20 Century Fox’s “The Book of Life”
Directed By: Jorge Gutierrez
Produced By: Aaron Berger, Brad Booker, Carina Schulze, & Guillermo del Toro
Written By: Jorge Gutier & Doug Langdale
As before with my other film reviews, I will be going over originality of the story, the music, and what few nitpicks I have with the film overall. A word of warning, this review will contain SPOILERS so those of you who want to see the film first, please go and do so. That all being said, I will say that I greatly enjoyed this movie. Would I consider it in my top five favorites films of all time? Certainly not but for those of the autumn season and Halloween, it definitely earns its place amongst the top three.
Now, I am by no means an expert when it comes to Mexican holidays, traditions, or mythology, but even so there wasn’t a moment that I felt lost or confused. In point of fact, the greatest selling point for the movie to me was the focus on the “Day of the Dead” holiday and the traditions involved. I especially liked the two deities connected to the holiday and the afterlife.
La Muerte, the kind ruler of the Land of the Remembered where the spirits of the departed live on in continuous harmony by the strength of the memories of their still living loved ones and descendants. Then there is Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten where all souls eventually decay into oblivion as they are forgotten completely, even by those whose dominion is over life and death. What I especially liked about these two deities aside from their wonderful designs, particular in the case of Xibalba who resembles a Mayan death god to La Muerte’s Mexican goddess, was their interactions with one another.
Namely that La Muerte and Xibalba are not only in love with one another but are quite likely married to one another though their relationship is greatly strained at the beginning of the story. It is revealed that the two gods happen to possess a not-so-unique weakness in that the two of them like to make bets with one another and oftentimes use mortals as their chosen champion. One such wager that occurred prior ended with Xibalba being banished from visiting the Realm of the Remembered and La Muerte quite furious with him.
Heck, when it is revealed that Xibalba had cheated in their latest wager, which the prize was the switching of domains so that Xibalba would be in charge of the Land of the Remembered while La Muerte would be in charge of the Land of the Forgotten… Well, lets just say that La Muerte’s reaction and the resulting argument between the two reminded me of an old married couple. I sincerely hope that if The Book of Life earns a continuation in some form or another, be it a television series or even a sequel, it should definitely feature these two and their interactions with one another.
As to the human characters of the story, I will say only that the dynamic that they try to emphasize in the trailers is in fact a false one. Going in, I expected to find Manolo and Joaquín to be bitter rivals growing up and constantly fighting over the hand of María who had constantly refuted them both all the way to adulthood. Imagine then my surprise that not only were the three of them great friends as children, but they continued to remain so as adults.
Though, admittedly, this might have been different had María grown up with them rather than spend most of her late childhood and all of her teenaged years learning abroad in Europe. Still, I commend Manolo and Joaquín for still maintaining their friendship even as they competed for María’s hand.
Then there is Manolo’s extended family, those being his ancestors who reside in the Land of the Remembered. Each of them is so distinct to themselves that I sincerely wished that there had been a bit more focus on each of them rather then the brief introduction that we get that consists of name, feat, and personality. Seriously, what was up with the one cousin who was apparently a clown in life?
The music of the film is… a bit hit or miss for me. There are times when Manolo sings incredibly well, particularly in the songs “The Apology Song,” “I Love You Too Much,” and “No Matter Where You Are.” Yet, there are other instances, such as the song simply and eloquently entitled as “Creep” that just grate on the ears and… yes, I do have to agree with popular opinion that the Spanish versions of “The Apology Song” and “I Love You Too Much” are much better than the English versions. Yet, my own personal favorite song was one meant for the end credits entitled “Live Life.”
The only thing that I can say negatively about the film is the art style and even then that’s… a bit of a hit or miss as well. I liked the idea of making the story being told through the wooden puppets and the multitude of in-jokes that litters the story that show it’s a modern retelling and not the actual story itself. Such examples of this include a few minor characters literally losing limbs and hastily reattaching them as well as María inexplicably knowing kung fu. I can understand the fencing, but kung fu? Where in Europe could she have possibly learned that?
However… it is the scenes leading up to the retelling and interjected inbetween that didn’t sit well with me. The art style is cartoony to a point where its… jarring, to suddenly descend into a world of wooden puppets. I’d rather they follow “The Pagemaster” route and have live action for the “real world” segments and the wooden puppets for the story.
Still, aside from that and the occasional song that just does not carry a good tune, I enjoyed the film though I am somewhat disappointed that its title was changed. Yes, originally it was to be called “The Day of the Dead” but given the number of zombie films that consist of most of those words, I can understand their reasoning for the most part.