Renting at the Reels: The day of the dead comes to life

By: Kaitlyn McKay, Columnist

Released in October last year, “The Book of Life” begins during the Day of the Dead (a Mexican holiday where relatives gather to honor and remember deceased loved ones), when the spirits La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), ruler of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, witness two children, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum) fight to win the heart of Maria (Zoe Saldana).

The two spirits make a wager over the three: La Muerte bets that Manolo will marry Maria, while Xibalba bets on Joaquin. If La Muerte wins, Xibalba will no longer interfere with the human world, but if she loses, then the two will switch realms and Xibalba will be the leader of the Land of the Remebered. Years later, Manolo is a bullfighter as per family tradition who wishes to be a musician, and Joaquin, who received a medal from Xibalba granting him immortality, is the town hero. While the two continue to fight for Maria’s hand in marriage, Manolo becomes trapped in the Land of the Remembered and is determined to leave to reunite with his beloved.


If you don’t remember the name of the movie, you should at least recall the visuals from commercials or trailers: it’s the Day of the Dead-influenced animated film, with a distinct Mexican art style, where the characters look like wooden puppets and visuals are bright and colorful. Above all else, that is the film’s strong point: its animation and art style. The scenes in the Land of the Remembered are especially gorgeous to look at, with its candy-like colors and attention to detail.


The animation is great, but everything else? The main focus of the movie, the love triangle, is tired and conventional. If there is something positive to say about any of the uninteresting leads, it’s the writers’ decision to keep Joaquin a “good guy” throughout the entire film. He does not become a villain a la Gaston from “Beauty and the Beast”: he’s a decent person who just happens to be vain. The voice actors are interchangeable, but I appreciate at least the attempt to have a decent chunk of the cast voiced by Mexican actors.


The most surprising part of the film is the fun relationship between La Muerte and Xibalba, as they are the only characters that have any sort of entertaining chemistry with each other – certainly more so than our leads, Manolo and Maria.


The absolute most worthless part of the whole film is the fact that the entire film is told by a museum tour guide to a group of rowdy kids on a field trip. It adds nothing to the movie, and any time spent on this part of the movie could have been used to give character development to the other characters (specifically Manolo and Maria, who barely have a conversation in the film).


“The Book of Life” is a movie that can be put on a long, long list of animated films that are appreciated solely because of its art style and animation, but not really anything else. At the end of the day, it’s a harmless, decent movie.


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