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Review: 'The Book of Life' is a colourful and necessary family movie Special

Posted Oct 17, 2014 by Michael Thomas
'The Book of Life' is what happens when a deep respect for culture is combined with modern sensibilities and visuals that will make audiences marvel.
Scene from  The Book of Life
Scene from 'The Book of Life'
The Book of Life
The movie is a breath of fresh air for family-friendly films in a time when sequels to established franchises are dominating the market. The Book of Life, directed by Jorge Gutierrez, takes cues from Mexican mythology and brings the vibrant characters and landscapes to the forefront.
Starting in the present, a group of five kids from a "troubled" school are taken on an unorthodox tour of a museum and told a story that dates back hundreds of years.
The tale begins with the Mexican deities La Muerte (Christina Applegate) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman). The latter is tired of ruling the Land of the Forgotten, and so he makes a bet, with the winner being allowed to rule the vibrant and celebratory Land of the Remembered.
The subject of their bet is who will win the heart of the lovely María (Zoe Saldana) — the guitar-playing, sensitive Manolo Sánchez (Diego Luna), or the charming and courageous Joaquín (Channing Tatum).
As Manolo embraces both music and bullfighting, Joaquín becomes a decorated hero — thanks to a little help from a medal (given to him by Xibalba, of course) that grants him freedom from injuries and death. As Manolo looks more and more likely to win María's heart, Xibalba cheats and puts the whole bet in jeopardy.
Though the movie is undoubtedly aimed at children (the first 20 minutes or so features more than a couple of poop jokes) and the ending of the movie is easy to predict, the journey there is unforgettable. First and foremost, Gutierrez's devotion to detail in the visuals is astounding. The village where this story takes place bursts with quirky characters and warm colours, and the Land of the Remembered is beautiful with its pinata-coloured landmarks in contrast to a stark black background.
The movie also bursts with music and cleverly incorporates Mariachi and Spanish-guitar versions of songs like Mumford and Sons' "I Will Wait," Radiohead's "Creep" and even Elvis Presley's "Can't Help Falling in Love With You." Gustavo Santaolalla seamlessly mixes the modern with the old.
Most importantly, the movie delves deeply into character connections. María is a woman far ahead of her time in her refusal to become a typical housewife. Joaquín could have easily been rendered a stock character, but he shows real compassion and does his own heroic deeds. Manolo's relationship with his father and the rest of his family truly tugs at the heartstrings, especially after his father reconsiders what his pushing has done to his son.
If anything, The Book of Life proves that it's possible to make an appealing movie based on foreign mythology without being exploitative. Movies like these bring a variety of new perspectives and characters that Hollywood just isn't seeing right now.