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Review

‘The Book of Life’ offers heartwarming entertainment, along with unique plot

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October 24, 2014

The newest film in theaters, “The Book of Life,” manages to show beauty in the dead coming back, though the dead could maybe be a bit slower, so we can appreciate them.

As our museum curator narrator explains, Mexico has a vivid relationship with its lost souls in their holiday, the “Day of the Dead.” During this day, family’s celebrate and remember their dead loved ones, for it is only when we forget our loved ones that they are truly dead.

Movie poster
“The Book of Life” is an animation directed by Jorge Gutierrez.

This sets the backdrop for two gods, La Muerte and Xibalba, who reside over the dead, to make a wager with one another: that goodness pervades in all life and continues into death.

These two gods will pick two young men on earth, aspiring musician Manolo, and the headstrong soldier Joaquin, to play in their divine game as both young men fight for the affections of the beautiful Maria, their childhood friend.

But as the game of the gods plays on cheating will take place, people will die, and the hero Manolo will find himself traversing the very land of the dead itself to prove himself worthy of Maria’s love and to save his home town from threats both tangible and spiritual.

Jorge Gutierrez, a name that only the real animation fans will notice, was big about this movie. Gutierrez is a special animator from a special background: the Mexican born man went to the California Institute of the Arts, a highly regarded animation college, and only created one cartoon for television, “El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera.”

Despite a short, yet fulfilling, resume, Gutierrez has constantly proven himself a maestro of character design in all his works, having a penchant for detailed designs that take after Mexican art and culture.

His work has also contained great respect and honor for his Mexican heritage, and he remains one of the only animators I know of today who can talk about this heritage from first-hand experience.

“The Book of Life” is his first feature film, and the reason I talk so much of him is because his movie is entirely in his personal style.

Being a 3D animated film (as opposed to his usual hand-drawn 2D animated style), Gutierrez’s art style transfers surprisingly well, with detail and visual splendor pervading every character; the Mexican influence in the art design is especially admirable.

In fact, “The Book of Life” is beautiful through and through, with enough fast and fun characters, and action to satiate even the most unimpressed individual. I was quite impressed by the effort of the film team.

However, “The Book of Life” still had two major problems, and that was the writing and the pacing.

The story itself was a good concept, but a good chunk of the jokes, references and gags in this film fell pretty flat for me; imagine the usual Hollywood tropes you see inserted into animated films to make them “hip” and appealing to all kids and you get what I’m saying.

Pacing was the biggest problem with the film. The films animation was too fast at times to keep up with; I found myself wishing that I could take in environments, settings and character designs, only to have them rushed past me to fit the hour and thirty minute run time.

It can’t make good animation if you can’t appreciate it entirely, and the film speeds by you at a breakneck pace while every frame beckons to be consumed slowly. Despite those problems, I actually like this film. Problems aside, the big thing that got through to me was the heart.

“The Book of Life” talks very respectively of its subject, the Day of the Dead, and Gutierrez manages to creep in some sweet and heartwarming moments that made it worth watching.

Coupled with some decent acting performances and good music (though more original music would have been preferred), “The Book of Life” does right in my book and should be seen by young ones of all kind. It’s not every year that we see a talent like Gutierrez thrown a bone as big as this one.

Ryan Funes is a lover of all things movie, TV, video games and stories and wants to become a television writer someday. In his spare time he enjoys hanging with friends, tapping into his imagination, and watching cartoons of all kinds.