Wednesday, October 15, 2014



From IMDB:


From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez comes an animated comedy with a unique visual style. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future.

Ratings: 7.2/10 from 200 users | Reviews: 1 user | 1 critic

From Rotten Tomatoes:
Movie Info

THE BOOK OF LIFE, a vibrant fantasy-adventure, tells the legend of Manolo, a conflicted hero and dreamer who sets off on an epic quest through magical, mythical and wondrous worlds in order to rescue his one true love and defend his village.

No Ratings

Official U.S. release date 17th October 2014
Official Malaysia release date 16th October2014

That's lady with the tiny hat will be your guide for this movie. Those kids will sort of be you. ©20th Century Fox

First Thoughts...

Well here's another movie where prior to watching it I made no efforts to look into it. Well not much and not way before anyway. I think other than catching the trailers showing prior to whatever it was I was actually watching, I only really looked up The Book of Life the day before writing this review. So here's what I know.

Produced by Guillermo Del Toro who directed Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy, Blade and Pacific Rim among many others. I enjoyed most of them, so you can pretty much trust him when it comes to entertaining films and I'm probably not the only one who thinks this way about the man. Directed by Jorge Gutierrez who has worked on animation titles likeChalkZone (Nickelodeon), ¡Mucha Lucha! (WB), The Buzz on Maggie (Disney), as well as his own passion project El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera for Nickelodeon which won him a couple of awards. I've caught ChalkZone, ¡Mucha Lucha! and El Tigre on occasion and although I remember very little of ChalkZone other than the chalk gimmick that they use but I do remember ¡Mucha Lucha! and El Tigre being very different in terms of style and humour. They were a lot of fun to watch.

These colorful characters are gods of the nether realm. She's from the fun side if you haven't guessed. ©20th Century Fox

So those are the guys responsible for making things happen behind the scenes. For me I think we're in pretty good hands based on that. Based on the trailer alone I thought it looked interesting of course but I really wasn't sold on it completely but when I found out Guillermo Del Toro was producing I thought maybe this thing could be good but this being Jorge Gutierrez's first major film, I was not completely optimistic. Then I read up about the company making The Book of Life, Reel FX whose movies I haven't really seen so there's that to consider.

Then there's the cast for the movie and there's a lot of familiar names if you've been to the movies recently and more if you're a movie fan. Here's some of the voices you'll hear, Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Cheech Marin, Héctor Elizondo, Plácido Domingo, Gabriel Iglesias and Danny Trejo. Although when I saw Channing Tatum and Ice Cube in that list of names for a movie that is very much about Mexican culture and tradition I thought they would stick out like a sore thumb, or at least their voice would.

Meet Manolo your hero all grown up and going to fight a bull. ©20th Century Fox

So basically I had no idea what to expect of this movie. You had a mix bag of pros and cons and a trailer that looked beautiful but was sort of hard to figure out whether it was targeted at a younger crowd or an older one? Was it going to be silly and funny or was it going to be a pretty funny movie with a good driving plot? Was it for someone who enjoys Bugs Bunny or was it for someone who enjoys Mickey Mouse? That was the sort of questions I had when I saw the trailer. So I had no idea what to expect other than the movie looking pretty cool.

And this is Joaquin. He's not the hero but you won't hate him either. ©20th Century Fox


So what is this story about? Well, if you've read the synopsis I've clearly taken from IMDB up there you'll know it's about Manolo (Diego Luna) who has to step up and find out who he really is in order to overcome some difficulties. If you've seen the trailer you'll sort of know that he's doing it in order to look for his one true love and that he dies and goes in search for her in the after life.

So let me recap for you what I remember about the movie.

Every lovelorn hero needs to climb a streetlight to woo his lady love. ©20th Century Fox

The movie begins at a museum where a bus load of misfits arrive for a visit. They are greeted by an old man who is supposed to be their guide but just as the bus begins to offload the gang of miscreants a very attractive female guide shows up and takes them of the old guide's hands. She'll be your guide as well throughout this movie as she narrates the tale of Manolo.

She takes them into the museum but not through the front door, but through a fake opening that seems to appear out of thin air. She says to the kids that they don't look like the sort of kids that usually walk in the front door like everyone else to get them to follow her. This trick would actually work in real life I think. She guides them into a dark corridor and then into a brightly lit room. The room is filled with displays for Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. The kids look in awe as she explains a few of the exhibits. Then one little girl spots a display where a book is placed quite prominently on a pedestal. This is The Book of Life. The Book of Life is a book that contains the stories of everyone that has ever lived. In this case our guide begins to tell the kids and us about the story of Manolo, Joaquin and Maria.

I have no idea what's happening or what happened before this but you can tell Joaquin is not happy. ©20th Century Fox

Who are Manolo, Joaquin and Maria? They are the subject of a bet between La Muerte and Xibalba. La Muerte is Lady Death and the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, the place where all souls reside after death and when you are remembered by those you left behind. Xibalba is the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, the place where souls go to when there is no one to remember them. Both these characters do exist is South American mythology. What is the bet? Who will win the heart of Maria. La Muerte picks Manolo to win while Xibalba chooses Joaquin. The prize? If Maria chooses La Muerte's choice Manolo, Xibalba can no longer play tricks on the living. If Maria chooses Joaquin, then Xibalba will rule the Land of the Remembered and La Muerte will take his place in the Land of the Forgotten.

When La Muerte and Xibalba make the bet Manolo, Joaquin and Maria are just little kids playing at the cemetery during a Dia de los Muertos celebration. The kids of course have no idea that their lives are being wagered or that it'll change forever. La Muerte approaches Manolo in the guise of an old woman asking for a piece of bread and when Manolo gives one out of the kindness of his heart she blesses him for it. Xibalba also appears to Joaquin but in the guise of an old war veteran but unlike Manolo he thinks giving it to an old man will go to waste so Xibalba trades him the bread for an old medal that will ensure that no harm will come to him and that he will never run out of courage.

If climbing the streetlight doesn't work then getting on one knee at sunrise should do something. ©20th Century Fox

The next morning we see the three again running around the village playing when Maria spots a cute little baby pig at a pen outside a butcher shop and decides that the need to set them free. Set them free they do and the pigs run amok straight towards the village square where chaos ensues but it doesn't get worse until a really big and mean boar shows up. In the ruckus Joaquin pushes the mayor and Maria's father from harms way but it's Manolo that shows off his bullfighter heritage to save the townspeople from the angry boar. The mayor of course doesn't see any of it so Joaquin gets the praise. Maria being the cause of the chaos to begin with gets sent to Europe in order to learn to be a proper lady. When the three last meet it's at the train station where Manolo gives Maria the baby pig she spotted that led to her being sent away and Maria gives Manolo a guitar to replace the one that was broken when the pigs ran amok. On the side of the guitar Maria has etched a message for Manolo to play with his heart. Joaquin on the other hand doesn't get anything nor did he bring anything for Maria which of course makes him feel like he won last place.

So while Maria is away we are treated to scenes of Manolo and Joaquin growing up. Manolo learning his family trade from his father at being a Matador, a bullfighter all the while trying to satisfy his own passion of playing the guitar and singing which his father disapproves of. Joaquin on the other hand is taken under the wings of the Mayor, Maria's father and is being trained to be the perfect soldier.

This is the Land of the Remembered. Festive isn't it? ©20th Century Fox

A few years has passed and Maria is returning and it just so happens that to celebrate her return a big bullfight is being held and Manolo is to be the star. But Manolo has a problem, for him to be a true Matador he has to kill the bull at the end and this is something that Manolo can't do. Joaquin is also there and he is a famous officer renowned all over for being brave and courageous. The bull is released and Manolo puts on a show but at the end he puts down the sword and is boo-ed by the crowd, his father is disappointed. But Maria is impressed. Maria's father is not.

Later that evening at a dinner Joaquin tries to impress Maria with his old ways but since Maria's been in Europe she doesn't exactly share Joaquin's idea of what the woman's role is in the home. So in a huff she makes her exit. Manolo appears a little later to serenade her under her window. Some things happen and Joaquin decides to propose and Manolo interrupts this by barging in and they get into a scuffle as to whose the better man. Manolo gets kicked out but comes back a little later to make Maria promise to meet him under a tree outside of town. Xibalba overhears them and makes his own plans.

This is what Manolo looks like in death. Still looks good. ©20th Century Fox

They meet of course and Maria is bitten by a snake except that it isn't some ordinary snake, it's Xibalba's. She dies. As he carries her back to town he's met by Joaquin and the Mayor, they blame him for her death. Distraught he goes back to the tree where Xibalba appears to offer him a chance to find Maria and reunite with her in the land of the dead, he takes it. Xibalba's snake appears again and this time bites Manolo twice. Manolo dies and re-awakens in the Land of the Remembered. It's a beautiful place and since it's the festival of Dias de los Muertos it's just one huge party. He meets with his dead relatives and his mother and he asks them for their help in order to find Maria. They tell him to meet La Muerte but Xibalba now rules the place and when he meets Xibalba he realizes he's been had.

So he journeys across the Land of the Remembered in order to get to the Cave of the Forgotten (I think) in order to enter the Land of the Forgotten to meet with La Muerte to tell her that Xibalba cheated to win their bet. But to get there he must first get past the Candlemaker. The Candlemaker is sort of father fate, for every life he makes a candle and when that life ends the candle dies out and he's the one that manages it. He is also the owner of the Book of Life where everyone's life is written. Manolo gets past the Candlemaker and gets there of course and of course La Muerte is incredibly pissed at what Xibalba's done but she can't do much. There are rules to abide by even by them. So Manolo proposes makes a bet with Xibalba, he'll take on any challenge that Xibalba sets up and if he wins he gets to live again and La Muerte returns to rule the Land of the Remembered, if he loses than Xibalba rules both the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten and Manolo stays.

And here's the entire Sanchez clan comforting our Manolo when he's told that there's little he can do. ©20th Century Fox

Of course Manolo wins and does so in his own unique style. He gets sent back up to look for Maria. But just as he's being sent up the town is being attacked by a vicious bandit named Chakal who is looking for his lost medal. The medal that Xibalba gave Joaquin. Joaquin of course encourage by the medal faces Chakal but loses it while fighting Chakal which makes him lose all his courage. Maria meanwhile has roused the townspeople to stand and fight against Chakal and his banditos.

Just as things start to get serious Manolo shows up along with his dead relatives to help the townspeople fight Chakal and his bandits. They win of course and they live happily ever after.

That's the important bits that I remember. I may be wrong.

And this is what dead Manolo looks like from a high angle. ©20th Century Fox

What this mariachi fan thinks of the movie...

The Book of Life is a very different and unique movie. It's beautifully done. The amount of detail and effort put into every character, scene and background is amazing. The subject matter and the setting are like nothing I've ever seen before. The plot of course is familiar, sacrificing oneself for the one you love is pretty much standard movie plot and risking your own soul to travel through the afterlife has also been done numerous times but never like this and never through the traditions and culture of a South American nation. To give us a story that is inspired and steeped in the Mexican festival of Dias de los Muertos is very, very refreshing. I've never seen a movie that looked like this. The only thing I started to think about when I was watching this movie is a game I played a very long time ago that was made by LucasArts called Grim Fandango, a dark comedy neo-noir adventure game that takes place in the Land of the Dead which was heavily inspired by Mexico's Dias de los Muertos. I thoroughly enjoyed that game just as I did with The Book of Life.

But it wasn't just visually beautiful the music was a great partner to what you see. The music fit so perfectly you hardly notice it. It's not like some movies where you sort of can guess that someone's going to start to sing or break into chorus in this one it just blends in. You expect it yes but it's not like in a Disney movie, I don't know how else to say it. And the music is different, it's all interpreted either in the Mariachi style or I guess you could call it a very Mexican flavour. You'll definitely recognise some of the songs they sing but it won't be immediate and you won't think they've ruined it either.

So when you're about to beat up some banditos you need to do this. It's a rule. ©20th Century Fox

The voice acting is also pretty good. Remember when I said that I thought Channing Tatum and Ice Cube where going to stick out? Well they don't. They do pretty good as their characters, especially Ice Cube who plays The Candlemaker.
Overall if there's anything I can think of that could be a flaw with this movie is that there's just too much. Visually there's just too much. I wanted to see everything in every scene so much that I felt distracted from the characters sometimes by what I saw in the scenes and even in the characters. And then there's the different realms that you travel through. You spent much too little time and see too little it seems. They've taken so much care in the design of each that it left me wanting to see more of each. But that's not to mean that the pacing of the film is weak. The pacing is fine, you're never left feeling bored or that things are taking too long. It's just that it looks so good I sort of wanted to see more of it.

The movie has everything without going overboard or even resorting to type. Yes there are stereotypes in the movie but it's okay, they're poking fun at themselves. It's funny without becoming silly. The love story isn't too smarmy and all gushy to turn it into a Disney movie. For me it was all good. 

At the end even these two have a happily ever after. Isn't that nice. No real baddies in this one. ©20th Century Fox

So there you go. I thought it was a pretty good movie. It gave me an interesting look into a culture that I am not at all familiar with, Mexico's Dias de los Muertos, and it did it in the most visually beautiful way possible and maybe the most accessible one too. And it introduce me to the music styling of Mexico as well. I'm sure that some folks will go out after watching this movie to look up a little more on this colorful festival and its country of origin. Jorge Gutierrez has done a brilliant job with his first major film and I think I'll be looking forward to more of his works in the future.

I give this movie a solid 3.9 out of 5. Go out and catch this one when it comes out! You won't be disappointed.




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