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The living dead within a lively film

As an homage to Mexican culture, “The Book of Life” paints a strikingly vivid picture of love, honor and courage with a refreshing approach to animation and storytelling. Though the storyline itself paled in comparison to the vivacious nature of the film, the movie humbly offers an array of charming characters, easy-going humor and fun-loving songs with a subtle depth that makes this film one to watch.

The film begins with a rebellious group of outcasts dubbed “the detention kids” attending an average field trip at a nondescript museum on Nov. 2, the Day of the Dead. The story shifts as the kids are introduced to their tour guide, an affable but mysterious woman who leads them on a detour through a Day of the Dead exhibit. Using the wooden dolls of the exhibit, she begins painting a picture of the film’s main narrative, the story of Maria, Manolo and Joaquin. The two young amigos, Manolo and Joaquin, playfully compete for Maria, the town’s beautiful spitfire. Fast forward 10 years: the fated trio is once again reunited and the love triangle is set aflame once again. Set between Joaquin, the ambitious and undefeated war hero, and Manolo, the sensitive and musical bullfighter, the competition for the enchantingly free-spirited and beautiful Maria begins anew. Don’t be fooled—this love affair has much larger implications as La Muerta and Xibalba, the overseers of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively, wager their domains on the successor. Should Joaquin marry Maria, Xibalba would win the keys to festive Land of the Remembered, but if Manolo prevails, Xibalba would never again interfere with the affairs of man.

The main selling point of this film is definitely the stunning visuals as the lively aesthetics introduce darker topics, such as death and loss, in a playful way. With a vibrant color palette, director Jorge Gutierrez and producer Guillermo Del Toro triumph in CG animation, employing puppet-like characters to bring a certain warmth and charm to the advanced technological medium. With intricately eye-popping worlds and uniquely crafted characters, “The Book of Life” begs to be experienced on the big screen.

Alongside the awe-inspiring visuals, “The Book of Life” features an entertainingly eclectic soundtrack with soulful renditions of Radiohead’s infamous “Creep,” Mumford and Sons’ folksy “I Will Wait” and Elvis’s timeless “Can’t Stop Falling in Love with You.” Diego Luna, the voice of Manolo, croons Latin-infused covers, giving the film a quieter depth while the infectious feel-good songs, such as comedian Gabriel Iglesias’ cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy,” garnered uproarious laughter from the audience. Along with the catchy rhythms, the film’s humor is mainly light-hearted and kid-oriented, but also contains several hidden quips geared toward an older audience that had several parents chuckling alongside their children.

“The Book of Life” also contained a surprising amount of depth. An example would be when our friendly rivals share a poignant moment as they contemplate the overwhelming expectations set forth for them: Manolo with his long ancestral line of bull fighters and Joaquin with his war hero father. As they vow to step out of the shadows set forth by their ancestors and create shadows of their own, the film introduces a new dynamic for young children to latch onto. However, with so many avenues and complications, the moral of the story becomes muddled as the film shallowly dabbles in too many themes.

The film’s only major hindrance was the formulaic plot, with its stale character tropes and seemingly retrograde love triangle. With the extremely biased love triangle, Manolo, who is literally blessed by La Muerta with a pure heart in the opening scenes of the film, is the glaringly obvious choice. That being said, “The Book of Life” does deserve a slight nod for Maria. Far from the average shrinking violet, Maria encompasses the current trend of empowered women as she displays a depth of knowledge, both literary and combat, and a will to be reckoned with. Hands firmly on her hips, a young Maria declares that she belongs to no one as the boys pretend to fight for her honor and as the objectification resumes after her return, she openly expresses her disdain. However, these feminist notions are dampened by the wedding at the film’s conclusion as I had fully expected Maria to refuse an abrupt marriage between 18-year-olds that, all considering, still have a lot of catching up to do.

That said, “The Book of Life” is still a major triumph for Mexicans as it centers around a underrepresented demographic within the movie industry. Despite being set around the Day of the Dead, “The Book of Life” portrays death in a colorful, nonthreatening way. Intermixing modern elements with Mexican folklore and the mythology behind the sacred day, the film drives home the age-old philosophy that the dead are never truly gone as long as one remembers and celebrates the life they lived. Centering on the taboo concept of death in children’s films, “The Book of Life” does a remarkable job of painting these tragic events with a sense of happiness and familial love.

In spite of the abundance of tropes running rampant in the film, “The Book of Life” remains a complete joy to watch. The film is a grand slam for animators everywhere, with its Mexican accents and beautifully distinctive artistic style. Simply put, the movie is wildly entertaining because of its endearing characters and rich humor.

By Katie Nguyen, Staff writer


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