Voices of:  Zoe Saldana   Diego Luna   Channing Tatum   Kate del Castillo   Ron Perlman   Ice Cube


 There is little not to like about this colorful animation that kids will love and adults will be entertained by.  It’s directed by Jorge Gutierrez, who has an animation, writing, and production background, and Guillermo del Toro is one of the producers.  Gutierrez co-wrote the script with Douglas Langdale.  The story touches on a bit of sociology (Mexico’s Day of the Dead, machismo, and museum artifacts appreciation), psychology (how to win the heart of a woman, separating from parents and forming one’s own identity), and social issues (war, fighting, killing, poverty).  So the film has substance as well as flashy animation, gorgeous sets, and visually complex figures.  One of the filmmakers’ goals was to give the palette a sense of Mexican folk art.  Reel FX Creative Studios, Twentieth Century Fox Animation, and Chatrone have much to be proud of.

 The story begins when Maria (Genesis Ochoa and Saldana), Manolo (Emil-Bastien Boufford and Luna), and Joaquin (Elias Garza and Tatum) are children; but even early on, the two boys are vying for Maria’s affections.  As they age, they must also deal with parental expectations.  Maria is sent to Spain to be educated.  Manolo’s ancestors have all been bullfighters, and although Manolo would prefer singing and the guitar, his male forbears insist that he fight—and kill—a bull.  Joaquin comes from a warrior clan, and he is expected to hold to the tradition of protecting his woman and the city—which is just fine with him.

 Maria returns from Spain when they are teenagers, and the competition resumes for her hand.  Each man performs outstanding feats in hopes of winning her over.  To make the story more fantastical, god-like figures of the after-life have roles to play.  One is La Muerta (Castillo), queen of the Lane of the Remembered, a place souls go when they are remembered by the living—which is the function of the well-known “Day of the Dead”, a time to honor those who are still loved and remembered.  The king of the underworld, the Lane of the Forgotten, Xibalba (Perlman), got sent there because of shenanigans he’s pulled.  He and La Muerta were evidently a couple at some point until he was banished for ill deeds.  But they still keep in touch, and he loves to make bets with her.  He finally convinces her to wager on which suitor will win Maria’s hand.  She chooses Manolo, and he is counting on Joaquin.

 Maria has a real dilemma because each suitor has desirable qualities.  Manolo is more romantic and charitable, but doesn’t have wealth.  Joaquin not only has money, but he is a protector of Maria and the whole city as well, since banditos periodically invade the town.  I think it’s helpful for youngsters in the audience to observe how Maria makes her decision.  She will certainly make up her own mind; she has grown up to be a woman who thinks for herself and is thoughtful about the important decisions she makes.

 Book of Life is full of fanciful surprises—for instance, a skeleton (Placido Domingo) pops up periodically and sings operatic tunes.  Ice Cube plays a comical candlemaker who assists Manolo at a critical time.  The music by Gustavo Santaolalla is also a surprise in that many of the tunes will be familiar, but they have been adapted to fit with the multicultural theme and visual display of Book of Life.

 All in all, this is an outstanding film for all ages.

A most intelligently creative movie for children

Grade:  A  

By Donna R. Copeland