The Book of Life: Review

I can't believe it's taken this long, but I'm happy that there is finally a movie about Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican cultural holiday celebrating loved ones who have passed on. The Book of Life is not a perfect film and perhaps a little oversteeped in pop culture, but it's highly entertaining, stunningly beautiful, and a good primer on "Day of the Dead". The plot is a fairly straightforward love story of two boys in love with one modern girl and her pet pig. Throw in two guardians of the afterlife, including La Muerte modeled after the famous La Catrina icon, who can't resist a good bet and deadly highjinks ensue.

Of course, the animation is the real star. The Book of Life is visually striking and features some of the best animation I've seen in a long time, and it embraces the love for Dia de los Muertos that Nightmare Before Christmas has for Halloween. I loved that all the characters look like wooden folk art toys straight from a Pixar film, with interlocking sockets, chiseled/gouged features, and actual woodgrain skin.

The movie's frenetic pace and thin plot will sit well with younger viewers, and there's enough goodwill humor, and surprisingly touching scenes for adults. I did wish the overall tone would have had a stronger ethnic flair. For example, Mexico's music is lovely and while some of the original music for the film did have an ethnic feel, the pop tunes (like Radiohead's Creep) felt out of place. I often wonder if films will stand the test of time, and the more pop references included, the less likely it will be a long-standing classic. As whole the movie produced by Guillermo del Toro feels authentic, really captures the whimsical nature of a mostly misunderstood holiday, and is really a joy to watch.

Above are the two official posters: the U.S. version and the Mexican version. Please note that on the Spanish one, the colors are lighter, Dia de los Muertos is clearly referenced (instead of movie stars), the male lead is front-center and larger in a more suave look, and included right at the top are the spookier characters – who incidentally went entirely missing from the last round of U.S. trailers! I'm guessing the U.S. marketing department wanted to hide that scarier element from audiences even though the movie is opening in October!