When a group of young kids has to take a field trip to the museum, they end up hearing about a magical story of true love, bravery, magic and the dead. With the voices of Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna and Channing Tatum and animation by Reel FX Animation Studios, the Book of Life is a fun, beautiful childrens’ movie that is perfect for those who love Halloween and hate horror.
At the museum, Mary Beth tell the “detention kids” the story of Maria (Saldana), Manolo (Luna) and Joaquin (Tatum) and their role in the wager between La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Pearlman), ancient rulers of the Mexican underworld and longtime romantic partners. Xibalba and La Muerte set a bet on who will win Maria’s heart, but when Xibalba cheats, Manolo has to set it right to save his hometown and be with Maria.
“The Book of Life” has many high points. The love triangle works surprisingly well, because Maria is unwilling to fall for cheap tricks from either Manolo or Joaquin. Maria is strong without being in-your-face, like many of Saldana’s characters. Both the writers and many of the directors are Hispanic, and the movie is a celebration of Mexican culture that’s normally hard to find in American mainstream culture. The score uses many familiar songs from pop music, which draws more American audiences in.
The strongest feature of the film was the animation. The style is doll-like, with intricacies in the costuming of each character that add flare to the film. The scenes in the Land of the Dead are gorgeous and vibrant.
The plot pacing, however, was somewhat off. The museum portion was unnecessary and cheesy, and some of the comic relief characters were cheesy as well. Mary Beth’s character, in fact, detracts from the plot, by telling the audience what’s happening, instead of letting the characters tell their own story. Manolo’s journey to find Maria doesn’t take focus, which, from what we do see, is the strongest part of the plot.
Overall, this movie is cheesy yet entertaining, a good Halloween alternative for people who hate being scared.