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A traditional love conquers all story, with a Mexican twist.
Review (with Spoilers)
Between an all-star cast, perhaps the sweetest love story you have seen in a while, and quite a few moments of laughter, it is hard to not say The Book of Life isn’t bound to become a classic for some. However, surely the movie must have some issue with it, right? Well, to find out, look below.
Characters & Story
The story focuses on three characters: Manolo (Diego Luna), an inspiring musician from a family of bullfighters; Maria (Zoe Saldana), who is the daughter of the mayor who rebels against gender norms; and then Joaquin (Channing Tatum), a young man who, like Manolo, is trying to step out of his father’s shadow. These three are best friends but, with them both loving Maria, there is a serious problem. One which two gods of the dead, Xibalba (Ron Perlman) and La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), plan to take advantage of. For with Xibalba sick of ruling over the realm of the forgotten, and him wanting to rule over the land of the remembered, he makes a bet with La Muerte over which young man will ultimately win Maria’s hand in marriage. Thus setting off a tale filled with love, laughter, betrayal, and one or two twists which help keep things interesting.
Oh! Where to begin? First off, let me say that despite this being a kids movie, which likely didn’t seek to do this, I was getting teary-eyed throughout the movie. The reason behind that is the film presents the importance of family, but not in a generic way. Instead, the film goes beyond your general, “family is important” message and gives the idea heart. Something which can be seen in Manolo’s family which has faced both tragedy and grand accomplishments.
Though what really got to me is that, despite the love triangle, and the film obviously favoring one side over the other, a part of you doesn’t really want to take sides. The reason behind that is, while Manolo is much more romantic than Joaquin, at the same time the movie lets you know Joaquin has no one. His parents are dead, he seemingly has no biological family, and with Maria’s dad being the sole caregiver in his life, it makes you want to root for him too. To the point, you almost hope no one ends up with Maria, but it becomes clear that isn’t an option.
Especially since Manolo, as well as his crew, perform the most beautiful, and sometimes comical, songs. For example: “I Love You Too Much” and “I Will Wait” really just make you swoon and feel pity for Joaquin since the story gives him so little to fight back with. However, with Xibalba on his side, it does give him moments in which you think he may just win.
Quite honestly, the only issue I can see someone having with this film is that for a movie about Mexican heritage, there aren’t many voice actors of Mexican descent. Also, while I did get teary eyed, and the story was good for me, it seems on Rotten Tomatoes the consensus is that the story is lacking. Which honestly I wouldn’t pay attention to since sometimes I think these critics don’t realize they aren’t the demographic movies like this aim for.
Overall: Worth Seeing
What makes The Book of Life worth seeing to me is the fact that it is one of the rare animated films which does more than present some simple message like love conquers all, or family is important, but it also presents a culture. For while some critics may want to talk about how the story isn’t deep enough, or other nonsense like that, think about how many animated films actually introduce you to something? For while the Day of the Dead isn’t necessarily an obscure holiday, nor the culture associated with it, what other movies, TV shows and etc. are talking about it? Never mind using it to get people interested in the history and culture behind it?