Death feels like the best birthday party ever in this Guillermo del Toro production, introducing kids to a vibrant world soaked in a fiesta of colour and constant creativity. It’s a ballsy move to make a family feature about the Day of the Dead, but it’s one that has led to an inspired art direction that works beautifully in motion while setting itself apart from the stock-standard Pixar/Disney/DreamWorks “look”.
The story avoids being complicated: Manolo, a sensitive musician, and Joaquin, a burly soldier, compete to win the heart of the divine Maria, a headstrong woman who is more educated that the two of them combined. Maria shows a good amount of strength and independence, although she is still a ‘thing’ to be ‘won’, and the film never quite escapes this tired idea of ‘possessing the girl’ – especially since a wager hinges on it. The film does earn back many points for its expression of male virtues, lessons on family identity and a smart anti-bull-fighting sequence.
The biggest problem with The Book of Life is how the gorgeously designed world is constantly interrupted with misjudged attempts at being modern and trendy. It’s jarring enough to hear Channing Tatum blurt out “come at me, bro” or Ice Cube doing an urban take on Aladdin’s Genie, but listening to an out-of-place mariachi cover of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ takes the try-hard cake. Imagine Frozen’s Elsa building her ice castle to Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ – it’s that cringe-worthy.
‘The Book of Life’ Movie Times (also in 3D)