The Book of Life (2014)
October 27, 2014 10:56 PM - Subscribe

"From producer Guillermo del Toro and director Jorge Gutierrez comes an animated comedy with a unique visual style. THE BOOK OF LIFE is the journey of Manolo, a young man who is torn between fulfilling the expectations of his family and following his heart. Before choosing which path to follow, he embarks on an incredible adventure that spans three fantastical worlds where he must face his greatest fears. Rich with a fresh take on pop music favorites, THE BOOK OF LIFE encourages us to celebrate the past while looking forward to the future." Animated to look sort of like stop motion, with a ton of Dia de los Muertos aesthetic (and plot points).

This took me about half a movie to get into (basically until you start seeing more of Manolo's family in the Land of the Remembered.) By then I'd started to buy into the pace and aesthetic of the movie.

The colors are great. I liked the Land of the Remembered scenes a lot. The rest of it... eh. It started out right out the gate with a woman the size of a twig in high heels who subdues all with her sexy sexiness and her Power Puff Girl eyes and bobble-head. ... And we're off...

Then there was 45 minutes of Speedy Gonzales/SpongeBob Squarepants ... movement, plus Mexican stereotypes. (Why oh why did everyone have an accent? This is one of my pet peeves apparently.) It felt very much like a Saturday morning cartoon.

Did they use the zillions of amazing Mexican songs available? No, they used Radiohead.

The main characters were anime-good-looking, but everyone else seems to have been made of spare wooden Mr PotatoHead parts.

The love interest (is it fair to call a woman a McGuffin?) was "empowered" in that she declared a disinclination to cook and clean for her husband and had inexplicably been taught martial arts. We're also told she's bookish, but we never see it. However, her desires and ambitions were of no import at any point.

In short: It's pretty. It had some things in it that made me laugh. The women characters were only one degree short of appalling. I can't totally recommend it.
posted by small_ruminant (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
SPOILER: Despite the repeated message to ignore expectations and to "write your own story" the main characters do not, in fact, end up in a polyamorous relationship.
posted by small_ruminant at 11:00 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just saw this movie this afternoon, and while it's probably mostly to do with where I'm at emotionally, I had a very different reaction. This movie wrecked me. I broke out crying, five, six times? I absolutely adored it and fully bought in. "Toro, I'm sorry"? Good god, that prompted some ugly crying, and I'm so glad there were only three other people in the theater.

Also, Ice Cube is god, and Cheech sings Biz Markie.

This movie is a Mexican Samurai Jack by way of Frozen, which is 100% in my happy place. YMMV, of course.
posted by jbickers at 12:02 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]

It was a lot of fun!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:23 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love Samurai Jack so I get that, and we kept seeing Aku in Xibalba. Of course, the only female I remember from Samurai Jack was the Scotsman's beloved wee birdie of a wife, so that might have helped- I wasn't constantly cringing from the sexism because there weren't any female characters to begin with. (problem solved?)

I loved the "I'm sorry" scene, too- it was the only one that affected me, but it was a good one.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:15 PM on October 28, 2014

jbickers- I had that reaction during Beasts of the Southern Wild, so I get where you're coming from. I think I bawled through half of it. Unfortunately the theater wasn't empty AT ALL!
posted by small_ruminant at 1:17 PM on October 28, 2014

The plot was whatever, but the animation was so incredibly gorgeous.
posted by jeather at 8:59 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, I couldn't dislike this if I tried. It had a warmth and essential enthusiasm to it that made me forgive even an unironic usage of an "all the princesses these days know kung fu"-type character. There wasn't a lot of irony to the proceedings in general, and these days that's the more subversive choice, honestly.

I liked that it wasn't a coming-of-age story. Once we're past the prologue, Manolo and Joaquin are actual adults with skills and moral beliefs, so even though their arcs are both fairly standard believe-in-yourself/make-your-own-meaning stuff, it plays in a fresh way. And the cosmic story of love and trickery between the gods was charming too -- riffing lightly on A Midsummer Night's Dream as well as the story of Orpheus.

I was glad that the tour guide turned out to be La Muerta at the end, just because I'd been annoyed by the apparent requirement to filter the story's mythic Mexico through a white American narrator.
posted by thesmallmachine at 1:47 PM on October 31, 2014

I saw this today, which is really the best day to see it, because It's November 2nd, and the film takes place on November 2nd, and you're surrounded by calveras and sugar skulls and wooden figurines and marigolds and candles all over.

And my eyes got as big as Maria's and just as filled with love and delight and joy.

It's not perfect. I really could've done without the Radiohead and Elvis. But it was so gorgeous and so adorable and I think I might make it an annual tradition, lighting candles and drinking chocolate and watching Book of Life every November 2nd.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:05 PM on November 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am Mexican and truly loved this movie. It was fantastic! Lots of little jokes here and there that you would get growing up in Mexico. I loved that they all had accents that sound like mine and that the voice actors were all people I recognize (Kate del Castillo! Eugenio Derbez!). The music was a great mix as well, Santaolalla did a great job as usual. I particularly loved the I Will Wait cover.
While at first I was annoyed that the narrator was a white lady showing all of this to a group of mostly white kids, in retrospect I thought it was a good decision. This is a movie made for everyone (mostly non-Latinos) from a Mexican POV. It's about sharing this holiday and its meaning. Things need to be explained and the background needs to be set and it's easier to relate if you can identify. I was glad that it was set up in a museum - that makes it different from, say, the lady reading the kids a bedtime story at camp. It gives it this air of...realness? It is a story, but it's a story based from reality, this holiday really exists like Mexico really exists.
There were some minor negatives - I didn't really like that Maria is A-OK with pretty much being a prize to be won, and I expected more from her displeasure with being just a housewife. It is brought up, the men ascribe it to feistiness and it is never mentioned again. I was also unhappy with the La Muerte-Xibalba pairing--why can't they just be friends? Other than that, the story was great.
(also, my mom has a white stripe on her hair like Carmen does, and my dad's name is Carlos, and they mentioned Tijuana...I could go on!)
posted by cobain_angel at 2:12 PM on November 2, 2014 [6 favorites]

I found the puppetty character designs a little distracting: a bit too much of a constant reminder that THIS IS A STORY. The art design though was spectacular, particularly when we transitioned down into the Land of the Remembered.

I also found it rather exhausting: it's hyperkinetic and there's ALWAYS SOMETHING HAPPENING and SOMETHING SHINY TO LOOK AT. The breaks back to the kids in the museum could have countered that a bit -- in a Princess Bride-ey "she doesn't get eaten by the eels at this moment" way -- but didn't: they were so brief that they only contributed to the choppy breathlessness.

The musical bits reminded me quite strongly of A Knights Tale which also broken into anachronistic song fairly often. If anything, I think it could have done with a few more verses of each song: a chance to slow down, catch a breather, enjoy the scenery.

And yes, it did feel like they wanted to have it both ways with Maria: to have her kick ass and speak out against Joaquin's sexism. but still be the object of a very traditional "which man will win this prize" framing.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:05 PM on July 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also (a) I loved how completely celebratory of its culture this was, and (b) I was totally suckered by the double twist with the snake.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:14 PM on July 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Just saw this last week and found, after watching it, that the critics largely already agreed with my own take that it was gorgeous, that the story was reasonably charming, that the songs were largely superfluous or distracting, and that the "comedy" was a festival of clichés falling flat one after another (including literally simply stealing "I immediately regret this decision" from Anchorman without understanding why it was funny). The frame story device also really felt like it could have been used better, or indeed well. I did crack the occasional Princess Bride comment ("he's just MOSTLY dead") at times though, since it did seem only appropriate.

All in all, kind of the textbook definition of 2.5 stars out of four. Beautiful to look at but nearly cringe-worthy to actually watch at times in a way that made me feel like I was watching a DreamWorks B-lister.
posted by DoctorFedora at 2:18 PM on August 29, 2015

There were, what, five non-LatinX folks cast in the main story with dozens of identifiable characters? One of which being Ice Cube? Danny Trejo as an honored grandfather from a very respectable family? Plácido Domingo nailing it in his first dramatic role? The Moulin Rouge sort of way pop songs were re-purposed respectfully for both cultures involved?

This is a very good movie. We haven't even addressed the visuals, where everyone outside the narrative conceit is an articulated wooden figurine, so lifelike and amazing you forget they are for a while. This is character-centered drama the whole way through despite the spectacular and dumb over-choreographed action scenes. Kids love it. Mine did.

She actually asked to go into her piggy bank to buy the movie. We rented it on Amazon, and she cried, a lot, all through it. When the rental ended, she was desperate for us to rent it again, she's seven.

She's only ever in her life asked to buy two things from her piggy-bank. Ear-muffs (they are pink and purple and enormous and shaggy/fluffy), and this movie on a disc so she can watch it again and again.

And again. And again. And again.

She still cries at parts. She is completely on board with the notion that the bad guy and the good queen love each other, and reliably breaks down weeping when the narrative framing brings things full circle.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:20 PM on February 7, 2017

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