Let’s get the confession out of the way first; I am not a fan of animated films. Especially when it comes to the traditional sugary-sweet, love conquers all Disney fare. I don’t care how modern it is, no I will not “Let it go”. I am grumpy and I am OK with that.
But even I can admit that some animated films can rise above the standard fare and provide an experience the equal of any mainstream film. Is The Book of Life one of those? Sort of. I mean yes. Mostly. The Book of Life suffers from a by the numbers story and clichéd characters but….
Oh, to hell with it, I really enjoyed it.
Largely set in the fictional town of San Angel, Mexico, the story follows three childhood friends; Maria (Zoë Saldana), Joaquin (Channing Tatum) and Manolo (Diego Luna) and the roles that their families and society are trying to put them in. At the same time they are subject to a bet between two Mexican Deities over who will be the first to win fair Maria’s hand in marriage.
On the surface this should leave the film as no more than a by the numbers love triangle with a bit of social commentary thrown in and that is exactly what it is. However, there is a charm and quirkiness to the film that raises it above its meagre foundations and turns it into a joy to watch.
The pace of the film is blistering and at no point does it let up, with the oddball humour complimenting the story wonderfully. The film makes full use of its Mexican heritage to provide a spectacular look and makes no apologies for its uniqueness.
Ultimately, I think that’s what makes The Book of Life so much fun to watch, when it’s so-so story ought to bring it down. It takes full advantage of its exotic flavour and sweeps you along, confident that you’ll enjoy every bite. The social commentary is there, but it doesn’t feel forced. This isn’t Brave, where you are beaten over the head with the idea that a girl can be equal, no, here Maria just acts like it and you can take it or leave it.
I went to watch this film because of Guillermo del Toro’s involvement as a Producer and it certainly has his fingerprints all over it, especially in the visual style. Ultimately, while The Book of Life will never be considered amongst the greats of animation, the care and joy taken in its making can be found all over the screen and it’s ideal if you’re looking for a film your whole family can enjoy.
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