Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Book of Life

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! So...this isn't a movie adaptation of the book adaptation of the Game of Life?

The Book of Life – 4 out of 5

I kinda wrote off The Book of Life when the trailers hit.  I didn’t think it looked bad but the trailers didn’t really sell me on seeing this before it came out on DVD and Blu-Ray.  While I’m not entirely sure that seeing it at the local cinema would have changed my viewing experience, I have to say the film is very entertaining and a terrific visual feast!
Don't choke on all that whimsy and color.

The dangling skulls somehow lessen the absurd
size of that hat.
The film opens with a tour guide (Christina Applegate) taking a group of kids through a museum and starts to tell them about Mexican folklore and begins to tell them an important story that took place in San Angel.  The story involves three friends; Joaquin, Maria, and Manolo, and their future becomes the subject of a wager between the ruler of The Land of the Remembered; La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), and the ruler of The Land of the Forgotten; Xibalba (Ron Perlman). 
How long does it take Xibalba to put on his outfit?

His mustache stays constantly trimmed thanks to
his teeth.
The two beings take bets on what man will win the heart of Maria.  After Maria is sent away to learn abroad, the two boys grow to men and have traveled down different paths.  Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is a proud soldier who seeks to protect his town from the evil bandit Chakal like his father before him—he’s also the horse that Xibalba put his money on.  Manolo (Drego Luna) is forced to either chase his true dream of being a musician or following in his family’s footsteps of being a bullfighter—and he’s the one that La Muerte has faith on with winning the bet.  The day Maria (Zoe Saldana) returns, the two men find themselves competing for her all over again but this time their war of love is being influenced by the supernatural forces of Xibalba.  Soon, Manolo finds himself transported to the land of the dead and now must fight to return to the land of the living in order to protect Maria and help Joaquin protect the town from Chakal and his marauders.
"I'm going to assume the poking that is happening to the small of my back has
to do with all your excitement over this colorful locale, Manolo.  Please don't
tell me differently.  It's strange enough we're on the same horse."

When the film started, I had a gut feeling that I wasn’t going to enjoy it because I wasn’t too thrilled with the animation—the fact it was made by the same animation studio that gave us Free Birds didn’t help either…I really didn’t like that movie.  The animation wasn’t terrible but it looked no different than any number of 3D cartoons that are on the airwaves now and didn’t look up to the same quality that you should see in a animated feature film.

GAH!  What the hell is wrong with his nose?!?

The growths on it don't help calm the terror brought on by that nose!

However, when the story goes from the tour guide and kids to the tale about Maria, Joaquin, and Manolo, the animation becomes infinitely better.  The surroundings become more vibrant and are bursting with color, and the character design and landscapes had a wonderfully tilted perspective of our world and sorta reminded me of the world of Little Big Planet.
I can almost hear Stephen Fry's voice narrating this.

It's nice of the Afterlife to let Manolo keep his hair and
not his skin.
This transition in story also made the actually tale more interesting and helped created the world The Book of Life existed in.  I just talked about how I loved the overall look of the film but what I really found unique about it was how the tour guide showed the kids wooden figures that represented the characters in the folklore and the characters all took that look in the story.  Joaquin, Manolo, Maria and all the rest all have points of articulation like action figures have and you can see the cuts in the wood that was used to make them along with the wood grain and such and it made the characters really come to life and contain an amazing amount of detail.  The entire film I kept an eagle eye on all the characters and settings, trying to see all the fine and rich detail that was placed into literally everything.  All this attention help craft a world that felt alive and full and only assisted in making an already interesting and fun story that much more engaging.
I know she's a cartoon but I can understand why two dudes would compete
for the hand of Maria...clearly she has a pool at her house, duh.

Some more racist members of the community (and pretty much all of Fox News viewers) will probably hate this film because it is focusing on Mexican heritage and not ‘Murica but I found this to be quite refreshing. 
Fox News viewers are probably not too happy that the film declares Mexico
as the center of the universe either.

That's some bull...
Granted, this didn’t make the actual plot that much more unique but that isn’t me saying the film has a rehashed and overly familiar story.  Sure, the story doesn’t offer up many surprises with how it plays out and it deals with a lot of themes that are not uncommon in animated films (like love, family, responsibility, etc.) but it is still really fun to take in and those themes really don't get old.  Add in the film’s great use of popular music (there is a version of “Creep” by Radiohead that is better than the original, in my opinion), some absolutely hysterical gags and jokes (the way Joaquin would say his name when he went into battle had me rolling), terrific voice acting from the entire cast (which also included Ice Cube, Hector Elizondo, Danny Trejo, and Carlos Alazraqui), and killer animation with wildly beautiful visuals and colors easily made up for the fact you pretty much knew how the film was going to proceed.
Ice Cube provides the voice for a character that is made of wax and has a cloud makes sense in the film.
The Book of Life was a lot better than I had predicted it to be.  The film is gorgeous, soulful with its use of music, and hilarious.  All that adds up to it being a lot of fun and ridiculously entertaining.

To end this review, here's a cute pig from the film.  I'm going to end more reviews with
cute pigs.

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