The word “marvel” comes to mind when leaving The Book of Life. The Jorge R. Gutierrez directed passion project and tribute to his family and his heritage is a feast for the eyes, ears and most importantly -- the soul.
One could think seeing The Book of Life trailer, the film is painted as a Day of the Dead story, but it is so much more. It’s about love, friendship, finding one’s purpose, following your passion, family and yes, life and death.
We adore how the story is told through a narrator (Christina Applegate) who is doing her part to impart some knowledge to a group of kids taking a museum tour. She is telling the folkish tale of The Book of Life and introduces our characters while simultaneously putting its lessons in a form that makes it easy to forget we’re even getting them!
Ron Perlman is Xibalba and Kate del Castillo portrays La Muerte. They are centuries-long loves who are separated by their various places in the afterlife. She runs the Land of the Remembered and he runs the Land of the Forgotten. Dying to get out of his personal hell, Xibalba makes a bet with La Muerte. They look down and see three little kids, two boys and one girl. They each choose who they think the girl will grow up to marry. If he wins, they switch places. If she wins, things stay the same.
The boys are Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and our girl is Maria (Zoe Saldana). Who wins whose heart and how we get there is a terrific and fun ride that zig zags between the Mexican landscape of our story (mostly) and the museum tour guide in the present. And then there’s the music. Gustavo Santaolalla wrote the score including several extraordinary original songs as well as given us mariachi versions of some of our favorite popular music hits, including tracks by Mumford and Sons, Radiohead and even Rod Stewart!
The Book of Life cast is filled with not only extraordinary Latino talent, but a broad spectrum of voices that will have you trying to figure out who’s who. Among our favorites is Ice Cube as the Candlemaker god, Placido Domingo as Skelton Jorge (and yes, he sings!) and Hector Elizondo as Carlos Sanchez.
What is so affirming about Gutierrez’s The Book of Life is how it is a story about paying respect to our deceased familial roots and how in doing so, we are in fact celebrating life. There is something powerful about the tradition of the Day of the Dead, where we take one day a year and tell stories and visit the graves of our loved ones. It is those memories that keep them alive and as we see in The Book of Life -- that means that they never truly leave us at all.
Our The Book of Life review can say that we were truly touched and entertained by the entire Guillermo del Toro produced effort (his touches are slight but present). The look of the film is exquisite, the animation is as colorful and as vibrant as a fiesta. Overall, this is one Book that younger audiences will cherish visiting over and over -- and their parents will be there too.