Movie Reviews

'The Book of Life': A beautiful animation film

By Loh Yong JianMovies - 30 October 2014 8:16 AM | Updated 3:49 PM

'The Book of Life': A beautiful animation film

The Book of Life trailer

Our Rating

4/5 Stars

'The Book of Life’ is a loud, cheerful and fun animated feature that is best suited for those who like to see an unlikely hero defeat the odds with an equally unlikely passion.

We can say this, because we found ourselves celebrating the victory of a matador who overcomes a fire-breathing bull by playing the guitar and serenading his love.

That, as it turns out, is an extremely boring way to describe the movie.

Here, first-time auteur Jorge Gutierrez takes the well-worn but feel-good thread of an underdog’s uprising and shades it in colourful Mexican folklore; this time, it is the Day of the Dead, a festival where families commemorate departed loved ones with offerings and other souvenirs.

The result is a wildly offbeat movie that takes huge liberties in broaching the topic of death to its young audience, yet somehow manages to escape with a light-hearted, whimsical and dazzling 3D spectacle that is too easy to like.

At the heart of this showpiece are reluctant bullfighter Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) and the burly, dashing town marshal Joaquin (Channing Tatum).

Despite being fiercely loyal childhood friends, they are locked in battle for the affection of Maria (Zoe Saldana), whom we see strong-armed into the mould of a modern-day woman after her father sends her to Spain to read.

Zoe Saldana voices Maria, the girl at the centre of the love triangle

Along the way, there is a meaty anti-conformist message.

“I heard that she reads books – for fun,” exclaims one of the spectators as Maria returns to the small Mexican town after her sojourn in Spain.

She proceeds to break up a swordfight between Manolo and Joaquin, proudly announcing that she had picked up fencing in Spain.

Not afraid to show off her new skills, she later steals another scene by using gongfu to hold off a group of bandits.

Meanwhile, Manolo’s father swipes his guitar off and warns him: “Music is not fit for a Sanchez bullfighter!”

It is obvious that Gutierrez hates stereotypes and seeks to shatter them, and he hugs his ideals around the movie like a gaudy plastic picture frame. 

Ron Perlman voices Xibalba, ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, and Kate del Castillo voices La Muerte, who rules The Land of the Remembered

Watching on the sidelines of the love triangle are two rulers of supernatural worlds, La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who throw a wager on which man Maria will wed.

La Muerte, who rules the Land of the Remembered where the dead are still remembered by the living, believes that Manolo will win Maria’s heart, but Xibalba, who is ruler of The Land of the Forgotten where the dead are not remembered by anyone, tips Joaquin as his choice.

If La Muerte wins the bet, Xibalba must agree to never intervene in the issues of the living world again, but if she loses, La Muerte must concede control of both the living world and The Land of the Remembered to Xibalba.

Characters hop between the realms of the living and the dead at the drop of a hat, and the claustrophobic colour palette of the living world mingles with the kaleidoscopic hues of the traditional Mexican art-inspired Land of the Remembered.


To that end, Reel FX Animation Studios, only on its second animated feature after 2013’s ‘Free Birds’, delivers a canvas filled with gorgeously rendered imagery.

The Land of the Remembered is in a constant state of merriment, and it shows in the movie’s lavish set design, with confetti and fireworks raining down on medieval soldiers who are munching on drumsticks.

Few movies come close to the diversity and panache of the animation here, and even fewer deserve the 3D treatment.

'The Book of Life’ is one of those few movies.

Its formulaic plot does little to reinvent the wheel, but its riffs on Mexican folklore and top-notch visual effects combine to create one of the most unique animated features in recent memory.

‘The Book of Life’ opens in cinemas 30 October 2014

Movie Photos

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The Book Of Life
  • The Book Of Life

  • Rated
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