Friday, October 17, 2014

Movie Review: ‘The Book of Life’

*** out of 5
95 minutes
Rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images
20th Century Fox

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The Book of Life’ (2014) on Blogcritics.

While Guillermo del Toro may usually serve up a slam dunk when he sits in the director’s chair, his producing efforts are a little weaker. Although to be fair, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Mama are better than you’ve probably heard. Del Toro was brought in to spice things up for DreamWorks Animation in conjunction with being able to kick off his own production company in order to make horror movies for kids. The first step in this direction is plastering his name on Jorge Gutierrez’s “Day of the Dead”-inspired The Book of Life. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of life to be found.

Three childhood friends — Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna as an adult), Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana), and Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) — are placed in a bet by the rulers of The Land of the Remembered and Forgotten — La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman), over who will wind up victorious over Maria’s heart. Afraid of losing, Xibalba sends a snake to bite Maria, sending her into a coma, and winds up killing Manolo, sending him on an adventure through the underwold. Needless to say, there is also a subplot involving the approaching threat of the villainous Chakal (voiced by Dan Navarro) and the never-ending wishy washy affections of Maria.

If you find yourself getting lost in the onslaught of plot, don’t worry, you won’t be alone. The only way one could really enjoy The Book of Life would be to sit back and enjoy the visuals. Reel FX Creative Studios created a fantastic-looking film, chock full of skeletons and skulls, but Gutierrez’s screenplay (co-written by TV vet Doug Langdale, also of Gutierrez’s animated series El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera) completely whitewashes (i.e. Americanizes) everything. They also fall back on the old DreamWorks attitude that pop songs used out of context are hilarious. For anyone who’s already sick of Mumford & Sons’ “I Will Wait,” mind your ears.

The other huge annoyance is how out of place Tatum sounds among the Hispanic voice cast. There’s no way his name is being used as a box office draw since you don’t get to actually look at him. Also, be warned that there is a deluge of poop and pee jokes. At least one of each just in the opening scene! I admit, for the first half hour I was relatively enchanted by the animation style, but once the plot kicks in everything starts to sputter and never picks back up. The worst offense for any animated feature is boredom, but that’s all that’s left to find in The Book of Life.

Photo courtesy 20th Century Fox

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