Movie Review: The Book of Life

Amidst the slate of annual Halloween flicks (with this year’s lineup consisting of killer dolls, occult rituals and non-sparkling vampires), there always seems to be that 1 fun-filled animated film meant for the kids and the timid.

But never before has it been Mexican.


Director Jorge R. Gutierrez kicks off 2014’s season of animated Halloween films with The Book of Life. A group of adorable “detention kids” are whisked away by a suspicious but pretty museum guide (Christina Applegate) to hear stories of Mexican folklore.

Set in Mexico – the apparent “center of the world” – on the Day of The Dead (November 2),The Book of Life embodies some of the most overused clichés in the world.

You have your 3 amigos childhood friends entrapped in a love triangle. There’s Manolo (Diego Luna), the sensitive musician-bullfighter, and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), the town hero and the closest thing to a jock you can find in a Mexican village. The 2 fight for the affection of Maria (Zoe Saldana), the feistiest girl in town who doesn’t need a man and is very good in fencing.


Of course, the estranged gods of Mexican afterlife gamble on this love triangle in return for the fate of the world. Despite its shortcomings, The Book of Life manages to portray the characters in an endearing light.

Themes of self-discovery and belonging seem to transcend Halloween animations of late like ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania and the film chooses to revolve around similar themes such as facing pressure of parental expectations, pursuing your own dreams, and even a dose of feminism thrown into the mix.

Regrettably, much could have been portrayed of Manolo’s epic adventure in the breathtakingly animated Lands of the Remembered and Forgotten, including the underdeveloped back-story of many crucial secondary characters. What’s the villain’s story? How amazing is Joaquin’s father? What is Manolo’s bad-ass family’s lifestory? And what exactly is up with the luchador priest and his singing nuns? Manolo’s journey is no doubt a fun ride, but we could have seen so much more.


In terms of animation, the detention kids and museum guide look plastic-ish like Barbies with their unmoving hair but once you dive into the story itself, the aforementioned choice may have been intentional for juxtaposition purposes. The intricate wooden doll avatars and gorgeous Calaca skeleton dolls mesh well with the painstakingly detailed environment and the whimsical storytelling nature of the film, which is a true testament to director and character designer Jorge R. Gutierrez’s 14 grand years of labour.


Beyond the exceptional graphics, The Book of Life’s guitar-heavy soundtrack complements the mesmerizing scenery of Mexico. Curated by Gustavo Santaolalla (The Last of Us OST) with Diego Luna helming the vocals, audiences will hear short but amazing renditions of Radiohead’s “Creep”, Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You”, and the heart-wrenching “The Apology Song” in the film’s climax.


The Book of Life is an enjoyable Halloween flick for all with humor, vibrance and colorful characters in an equally colorful world. However, 95 minutes isn’t enough to do the story justice. One can only hope if Jorge R. Gutierrez ever decides to start work on the sequel (or a prequel) that he hinted in a podcast interview, it would take less than a decade to complete.

Rating: 4/5

Photographs courtesy of The Book of Life Official Facebook


Release Date: October 30

Genre: Animation, Romance, Adventure, Comedy

Main Cast: Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Christina Applegate

Director: Jorge R. Gutierrez

Producer: Guillermo del Toro

Language: English / Spanish

Runtime: 95 min