The Book Of Life review

Viva la muerte, kids

Film Title: The Book of Life

Director: Jorge R Gutierrez

Starring: Channing Tatum, Zoë Saldana, Ron Perlman, Diego Luna

Genre: Animation

Running Time: 95 min

Fri, Oct 24, 2014, 03:30



Directed by Jorge R Gutierrez.

Voices of Channing Tatum, Zoë Saldana, Ron Perlman, Diego Luna, Kate del Castillo.

G cert, gen release, 95 min

Just as Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was often attributed to its producer Tim Burton, this rather lovely animation by Jorge R Gutierrez is being flogged as a Guillermo del Toro project. It does indeed bear its producer’s stamp. Fired up on Latin American myth, not afraid to ask children to engage with mortality, The Book of Life could work as a gateway drug to del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.

Sadly, the story is not as impressive as the visuals and the jokes rarely take flight. This may be the sort of family film that attracts more sober admiration than genuine love.

Wary that the Mexican setting may scare off less adventurous kids from other countries, the film-makers give us a framing sequence that finds a museum tour-guide telling a school party the core story. There’s a lot of narrative to go round. A poetically minded musician (voiced by Diego Luna) and a gruff soldier (Channing Tatum) try to win over a well-educated señorita (Zoe Saldana). There’s more at stake than mere human happiness. The glamorous La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and the terrifyingly green Xibalba (Ron Perlman), both supernatural beings, take a gamble as to which suitor will be successful. Some transfer of powers will take place according to which chap gets the ring.

The Book of Life looks absolutely gorgeous. Combining Day-of-the-Dead aesthetics – the characters are versions of puppets – with a slight Picasso feel, the animation buzzes with colour and energy. The occasional outbreaks of liberalism do not lessen the film’s commitment to investigate the dark side of the human condition: bullfighting is discouraged, but we still embrace the underworld to come.

Unfortunately, the tale does meander and the attempts at jukebox musicality are a little misguided. Radiohead’s Creep works well enough. That Mumford and Sons thing is less than welcome.

Impressive stuff nonetheless.