Friday, January 16, 2015

Movie with Abe: The Book of Life

The Book of Life
Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez
Released October 17, 2014

I remember seeing previews for “Despicable Me” a few years ago that seemed to indicate two very different movies – one a grand monument-involving comedy about a truly despicable villain, and the other a more intimate and less mature story of one fiendish foe and his less ambitious aims. “The Book of Life,” one of this year’s top animated films, feels at times like two films, and that’s a credit to its interesting and unique outlook on the world, telling a mythological fairy tale wrapped up in a far more standard kid’s movie.

“The Book of Life” begins with the arrival of a few juvenile delinquents to a museum, and one particularly plucky tour guide who decides that she wants to make an impact on these snot-nosed teenagers who come ready with a bad attitude. It doesn’t take long for her to begin regaling them with a glorious story of two deities fighting for control of different versions of the Mexican afterlife, one a festive paradise and the other a solemn purgatory. As is often the case, it’s a wager that tempts them into switching places. At the center of that wager are two eager young men, Manolo and Joaquin, rivals since childhood for the affections of the alluring Maria.

“The Book of Life” is a more sophisticated story than it needs to be, which is a great thing and helps to make it an involving experience. Manolo longs to pursue his musical interests while his father pushes him towards the family career of being a bullfighter. Joaquin goes off to become a legendary hero, and returns to his hometown to woo Maria with his impressive resume and reputation. Manolo is the more naturally sweet, and Maria, to her credit, doesn’t let either man off the hook, keeping them both on their toes and performing to the best of their abilities to win her over.

“The Book of Life” jumps seamlessly from a present-day narrative beginning to the distant past and then into an entirely separate realm as Manolo is forced to deal with death early on the Day of the Dead. There is some wonderful mythology at play here, showcasing a part of Mexican culture that is rarely seen in American film. What’s most fantastic is this film’s music, including original songs “The Apology Song” and “I Love You Too Much.” Like Manolo, this film has heart, which is a real treat to experience.


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