The Book of Life (2014)
★ / ★★★★
“The Book of Life ” is written so blandly by Jorge R. Gutiérrez and Douglas Langdale, the rather unique animation—the characters looking blocky and very marionette-like—is overshadowed by a screenplay that challenges the audience to keep their eyes open. One would think that because the animation looked so distinct, the material would strive to be more compelling or unique, full of surprises. This is not the case and thus the picture is not only a big disappointment, I felt like it was a waste of film.
La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), leaders of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively, make a wager involving three childhood friends. Maria (Zoe Saldana) has won the hearts of both Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) but she must eventually decide who she wishes to marry. La Muerte thinks that Maria will choose Manolo while Xibalba believes Joaquin has it in the bag. Who will Maria choose?
I felt no passion writing that last paragraph because the story is as standard as it sounds. There is no excitement in the story because right from the very beginning, we suspect who Maria will choose ultimately—and she does. And while the script does show good qualities of each man, there is still a lack of tension or drama because there is an obvious and constant leaning toward one character both in terms of character design and what he stands for. We never believe that Maria would ever choose the alternative.
Listening to renditions of various songs from pop culture is like enduring the sounds of nails being scraped on a chalkboard. A tip: If one were brave enough to offer a rendition, it should at least be as good or better than the original material. Otherwise, it comes across laughable, lazy, and out of nowhere. It appears as though a lot of effort is put into making the picture, so why didn’t the filmmakers take a chance and create original songs?
The idea is to make money, right? So let us Look at Disney animated films. Despite mediocre efforts, like Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee’s “Frozen,” because more than a handful of songs are either endearing or memorable, sometimes both, it made a lot of money. Sometimes the songs themselves can sell a movie. Yes, part of the game is to make money but another part is to get people to actually see the work. The animation here, solely from a visual standpoint because I had not seen anything like it before, is worth seeing.
Genuine comedy, subtle cues, and creativity are drowned by mindless action, from bulls charging at a matador to bandits terrorizing a small town. It is difficult to care about what is happening because we never grow close to the characters. Other than wanting to marry the girl, Manolo and Joaquin do not seem to have a specific motivation that everybody can relate with at one point or another. We deserve much better than this.