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Overall Rating
4.14

Awesome: 14.29%
Worth A Look85.71%
Just Average: 0%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 1 rating



Book of Life, The (2014)
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by Jay Seaver

"A 3D theatrical Saturday morning cartoon, which is perfectly fine."
4 stars

The Saturday morning cartoon block officially became a thing of a past this fall, although every obituary has mentioned that television now has more animation than ever; it just migrated to syndication and then cable. What emerged was a different sort of cartoon, more irreverent and as likely to reflect an individual creator's aesthetic as a company's house style (which, as a side-effect, often makes them more authentically multicultural). "The Book of Life" is that progression making its way to theaters, a high-energy animated adventure with style and a big-screen voice cast.

It tells the story of a bet between the rulers of Mexico's two afterlives - La Muerte (voice of Kate del Castillo) of the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba (voice of Ron Perlman) of the Land of the Forgotten - over whether Manolo (voice of Diego Luna), the scion of a family of bullfighters who would rather play guitar, or mustachioed soldier Joaquin (voice of Diego Luna) will marry the general's daughter Maria (voice of Zoe Saldana). Though unaware of the bet, Maria isn't exactly thrilled that people are thinking of her as a prize; and that's not all: Xibalba intends to tilt the odds in his favor by sending Manolo to the land of the dead, and a dangerous outlaw seeks the magic medal which makes Joaquin invulnerable.

This is bookended and occasionally interrupted by a museum tour guide (voice of Christina Applegate) telling the story to a group of American kids, and while there are a few amusing gags that come from breaking it up that way, other reasons are probably more important: Explaining the Day of the Dead and other bits of Mexican mythology to those who don't know them, giving the younger members of the audience a chance to settle down and see their feelings reflected onscreen after characters are [apparently] killed by snakebites, or providing an in-story reason for why the characters look like wooden toys. It's kind of cute, but also a bit of a distraction from the main story that the audience really cares about - especially since the style contrast is more "wood versus plastic" than "real vs dolls".

As contradictory a choice as digitally-rendered wooden toys may seem to be - especially just a couple of weeks after The Boxtrolls showed how great stop-motion can look - it winds up being quite the nifty choice. There's a wonderful sense of imagination and whimsy, and something potentially scary made into something fun, that permeates every frame of the movie, but without the sense that director Jorge R. Gutierrez and his production designers have locked themselves in another set of limitations. There are some character designs I don't necessarily like in there (someone's got a thing for weird noses), but the bulk of the movie is a riot of brought colors and good-looking details that don't overly dazzle the viewer. It's got some nice 3D effects if you see it that way, but is not so busy as to look bad flattened.

Aside from the good looks, there's also an impressively upbeat attitude to the activities and some nice voice work. It's nice to see that for as obvious it is that Manolo is Maria's true love, Joaquin is not actually a bad guy; Channing Tatum plays him as having a head swollen by something other than brains, but he never twirls his fine mustache, and the fact that they don't know they're part of an official competition means that it's very easy for the trio's rivalry to me a friendly one, especially when they've got bigger problems. Zoe Saldana is giving voice to a sassy heroine straight out of central casting, but one that doesn't feel too constructed. Diego Luna captures Manolo as a sweet boy with scraps of dumb macho ideas on his head. Manolo is also given a large supporting cast of mariachis and dead relatives, and while Luna probably didn't spend much time in the booth with them, it's a fun, star-studded group which keeps things snappy.

As slick as the production is, there are facets of the movie that explain why it may more readily call to mind cable cartoons than the top animated features being produced today. It's the sort of picture made for children but with jokes aimed at the parents, and some sloppy writing in other places, maybe not quite building direclty to the lessons it means to teach. It's quickly but not perfectly paced.

It's a lot of fun, though, and as it turns out, I did happen to see it on a Saturday morning. That's the perfect time for it, and both its main audience and the grown-ups they bring with them should enjoy the show.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=24699&reviewer=371
originally posted: 10/20/14 22:29:22
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User Comments

10/21/14 Terry Stebbins Great movie! Really Enjoyed! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  17-Oct-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 27-Jan-2015

UK
  24-Oct-2014 (U)

Australia
  17-Oct-2014
  DVD: 27-Jan-2015




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