HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Book of Life
HTS Overall Score:90
Disney once had the market on good animated films, followed soon after by Pixar and then Dreamworks really stepped up their game. Now we’re getting some solid films by other studios such as “Boxtrolls” and “Coraline” from Universal and now even Fox is upping the ante and putting out some solid entries into the animated genre with titles like “Ice Age” and the like. I missed “The Book of Life” theatrically (as did many people by the box office numbers), but it was one that I had meant to see. So naturally I had to go out and buy this day one to see if it was as great as it looked. With Guillermo Del Toro at the producer’s help and a rather unique animation style to the film I was really intrigued. Like “Boxtrolls” this is another one that will get a lot of life on home video as it certainly lived up to and actually slightly exceeded my hopeful expectations. It’s cute, funny, a bit clichéd at times, but still a whole lot of family fun.
“The Book of Life” is a story within a story, as the first few moments of the film looks nothing like the trailer, both in animation style as well as plot. We have a handful of detention students on a mandated field day to the local museum and are forced to listen to a presentation by a beautiful museum worker (voiced by Kate De Castillo). She then proceeds to tell them of the day of the dead and the adventures of one particular trio of people during a day of the dead many years ago. Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) are both in love with the same girl, Maria (Zoe Saldana). Manolo is a sensitive boy who has a kind heart, and loves music (even though his father wants him to become a bullfighter like the rest of his family), while Joaquin is an orphan, and carries a bit more harshness to his character. He is still a good guy at heart, but there’s a rough shell that makes it a bit hard for the kindness to shine through. As children on the day of the dead, they are watched by the keepers of the underworld, La Muerte (Kate De Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman). Xibalba and La Muerte are estranged lovers, but the two still can’t help but heckle the other. Xibalba is in charge of the realm of the forgotten (basically their version of hell where you go when no one remembers you), while La Muerte rules over the realm of the remembered (a heavenly place filled with all your ancestors from generations back, what happens when the people on Earth remember your passing). Xibalba cons La Muerte into a wager, one that will swap their roles if Xibalba wins. They each choose one of the two children, Joaquin and Manolo and wager which one will actually marry Maria. Hands have been, shaken, the wager is made and the two sit back to watch the battle.
As you may guess from Xibalba’s sneaky personality, he doesn’t exactly play fair, giving Joaquin a slight advantage by slipping him a medal that makes the boy invulnerable to just about anything. This allows Joaquin to grow up into a warrior and try to impress Maria. As the children grow up, they mature and change, but no matter how much Joaquin tries he cannot seem to woo Maria. She is inextricably attracted to the sweet and kind nature of Manolo. Furious that his plan hasn’t worked, Xibalba tries one more trick and has Manolo killed to pave the way for Joaquin. Whisked off to the land of the remembered, Manolo realizes he’s been tricked by Xibalba. Fighting his way to the land of the forgotten where La Muerte now resides as a result of the bet, Manolo and his family members from the land of the remembered now have to show La Muerte the truth about her consort and set things right before its too late.
“The Book of the Dead” strikes a nice balance between adult and children’s humor, many times blending the two so seamlessly that people of all ages can get something out of the same jokes even. With Del Toro at the production wheel as an idea man, and Jorge Gutierrez directing the film I knew we were in for something a little off the beaten path, and that much was certainly realized. The animation style is incredibly unique, mixing a sort of wood block animation, with much more fluid styles to create a one of kind look, the duo forms a movie that visually is set apart from anything I’ve ever seen. The long lines and fluid look of the two gods contrast very nicely with the blocky and toned down color palette of the wooden style animation. The distinctly Spanish flair to the movie is also quite refreshing as it allows for a different tapestry to be used in an animated world that is filled with so much of the same stuff, just recycled. Gutierrez’s soft hand guides the film through the Hispanic culture quite nicely, adding in many modern melodies and themes, but giving them a decidedly Spanish flair at the same time. Manolo’s songs in particular stand out as songs that you or I know very well, but turned on its ear with a bit southern culture added in to spice it up.
The only real worry that I had going into the film was the casting of Channing Tatum. Zoe Saldana I could see, Diego Luna was duh, the addition of Danny Trejo, Gabriel Iglesias, Cheech Marin, Hector Elzonda and even Ron Perlman all seemed fine (and they did a great job), but Channing Tatum? That just seemed like a white egg in a whole dozen brown ones. I was right and Channing didn’t even TRY to do a Spanish accent, but after watching the movie I can’t think of anyone better to play the preening, but actually loveable numbskull Joaquin. I love Channing Tatum in his stupid action roles, but he seems kinda like a jock that’s not exactly the sharpest crayon in the box. Someone who’s of himself to the point of ludicrousness. Ironically that’s EXACTLY what Joaquin is portrayed as, and the humor of listening to a white boy play this decidedly goofy role just FITS like a glove.
There are a few clichés in the movie, the standard 2 guys going after one girl and supernatural events must occur that keep them apart is done to death. The modern trope of having the girl not need a bit of rescuing is about as worn out as the old “damsel in distress” storyline that it replaced, and the whole “family coming together” thing is something we’ve seen a billion times. Still, the movie just works, and works well I might add. The unique animation, the Spanish flair (Del Toro’s trademark) and the light hearted nature of the movie makes it a barrel of laughs and a whole lot of family fun.
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=37514[/img]“The Book of Life” comes to Blu-ray with a simply STUNNING 2.39:1 AVC encoded disc from Fox studios, and it’s a jaw dropper for sure. From the moment the opening scroll comes up on screen to the moment the credits roll I had to keep wiping up the saliva as I was drooling so much. The animation itself is extremely unique, giving the characters a mix of wood carving style animation mixed in with a much more traditional and fluid style of animation when compared with Xibalba and La Muerte. The colors are simply incredible, mixing in neon greens, blues, reds, hot pinks, blacks, oranges and just about any other color you can think of in a Mexican piñata of colors. The film is heavily saturated and looks almost hallucinogenic at points, but still incredible at every turn. Black levels are deep and inky, full of detail and life, with the fine detail itself being superb. Each animated line and curve of the characters is immaculate and the disc itself appears to be devoid of ANY digital anomalies. Simply put, this is a reference disc for animation. For those of you who like pretty colors and unique animation, go no further.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=37530[/img]Fox gives us a 7.1 DTS-HD MA lossless track that is a showstopper. Fidelity is tip top, with some fantastic uses of the surround channels. Usually animated films have an incredibly overstuffed soundtrack, from the dialog, to the musical numbers, to the action sequences etc etc etc. “The Book of Life” takes a slightly more subdued method as the musical numbers are softer and less “blasting you in your seats” giving the more subtle nuances of the film break through. Dialog is clean and clear, locked up front and giving me no room for complaints, while the surrounds bustle with activity as Manolo makes his way through the land of the remembered/forgotten. When the attack on San Angel comes at the end of the film the LFE channel does more than just add a low end to the track, it pounds like sledgehammer to the chest, giving little room for doubt that it’s there. The rest of the track is nicely weighted with LFE, but during that sequence and the Bull fight in the underworld really shake the foundations. Simply put, an excellent track from beginning to end.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=37522[/img]• The Adventures of Chuy
• Closer Look at "The Book of Life"
• The Music of Life
• Digital Carpenters: Behind "The Book of Life" at Reel FX
• Music Machine
• "No Matter Where You Are" Music Video by Us the Duo
• Audio Commentary by Director Jorge R. Gutierrez
• Theatrical Trailer
“The Book of Life” was unfortunately glossed over theatrically, with other fare taking the limelight in 2014. However, like “The Boxtrolls” it has been given new life on home video and should definitely be seen. The critics loved it unanimously, and I had a blast watching it, and with the stunning audio/visual presentation on the disc I can’t see any animation fan wanting to pass on it. Rounding out the set with a solid set of extras really makes the package a no brainer. I give this a solid two thumbs up.
Starring: Diego Luna, Ron Perlman, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum
Directed by: Jorge Gutierrez
Written by: Jorge Gutierrez , Douglas Langdale
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, Spanish, French, Portuguese DD 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Runtime: 96 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: January 27th 2015
Buy The Book of Life 2D Blu-ray on Amazon
Buy The Book of Life 3D Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Watch It
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