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Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DVD Review: Despite a Slight Identity Crisis, THE BOOK OF LIFE is a Delightful Ode to Día de los Muertos

is a paradox. It is by far the most interesting animated film I've seen from last year,'s not great. The animation is glorious, the characters are delightful, and the fact that it's one of the few animated films that celebrates with a traditional Mexican narrative (one that celebrates Día de Muertos) is all worth the price of the DVD alone. But it has a small yet pesky problem that I couldn't get around: its persistent need to infuse cultural ambiguity presumably to widen its audience. 

One the one hand, a broader audience is probably something that is a consideration for a filmmaker. Too often when a film appeals to a large minority audience, it eludes mainstream viewers who regard the film as "not for them." A ridiculous summation, I know, but a realistic one. After watching the movie, I wondered whether director and co-writer Jorge R. Gutiérrez was mindful of this as he included famously American songs like Radiohead's "Creep," Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy," and Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," re-sung by Diego Luna, Gabriel Iglesias and Cheech Marin, onto the soundtrack. Why not use traditional  Latin tracks instead? Of course, these aren't the only tunes on the soundtrack, but they just seem strategically placed during big moments in the film that likely garner the most American response. It just lends to a bit of an identity crisis rooted in the story. 

BUT, that aside, THE BOOK OF LIFE really is a fun, heartwarming film that uses universal themes of adventure, romance, and family to bring a traditional Latin tradition to all audiences. Luna and Zoe Saldana voice the two lead characters, Manolo and Maria, young lovebirds separated by family tradition. Manolo wants to go off on his own but his father wants him to follow in his footsteps and become a bullfighter, while Maria is expected to be whisked off into the arms of town hero Joaquin (Channing Tatum). When Joaquin ends up wining the competition, Maria is torn between what she is supposed to do and what it is in her heart. Meanwhile, Manolo travels to the "Land of the Remembered" where his ancestors teach him a valuable lesson. 

With its charming narrative and vibrant animations, THE BOOK OF LIFE may not be a flawless film, but it definitely deserves your attention. 

Rating: B- (*** out of *****)


Daniel said...

I haven't seen this but plan to, still it does sounds like the filmmaker was really trying to cast as wide a net as possible with the opposite effect. Still it sounds like a wonderful, if not great, animated film.

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