Animated bull fights, churros, and a mariachi version of radiohead’s creep? Yeah, I’m in.
“Book of Life” is the animated story of the legend of Manolo, and follows his mysterious and heroic journey through love, adventure, and trying to save his village. It is told to us with the production help of Guillermo del Toro, and the movie carries his distinct Latin American heritage and keen knack for visual flair. But is there much too it beyond those stunning visuals?
I have no idea, I was too distracted by all the pretty colors and gorgeous goings on to really care. OK, so that’s not completely true, I’ll chat more on the depth of the movie in a second, but seriously, this might be one of the Top 5 most beautiful animated films I’ve ever seen. It’s easily the best thing about the flick. And it’s one of those visual feasts that feels like there is something beautiful going on in almost every corner of every frame. From the design of the characters, to the beauty of their environment, every moment feels pixel perfect in it’s presentation. But it’s not just the beauty that makes the animation work, it’s the purpose as well. The animation does a great job at keeping what could be a very dense and multi layered story pretty clear. Each world we visit has a distinct enough art style that we always know where we are and what is going on. It’s a genius visual cue to keep us engaged in the story without those moments of perceptual vertigo that often occur in a movie that moves this fast. As to that though, I actually think the pacing of the story works really well here. The movie moves from plot point to plot point efficiently and with a fast paced quirky sense of humor that feels right at home in this universe. Speaking of which, I loved the cultural flavor of the film too. There is a real respect for the Mexican themes and though the story of the sacrifice of love is one we have heard told many times before, it’s neat to see it represented in an ethnic story that is all it’s own. I also really loved the way modern pop music was used in this, fitting to the story in a way that made it feel essential and clever rather than unnecessary and anachronistic.
In fact, the only thing that keeps this movie from being one of the best of the best for me is that overall it did end up feeling a little bit empty. I’m not saying the movie didn’t have something to say, it certainly did, but when it was over I never felt like the story found a way to really let that message sink in and take hold. Even though the fast paced action and humor worked, perhaps the movie could have taken a breath or two more to find some added poignancy, so that by the end we might have felt a bit more impact in its emotional center.
At the end of the day, even though the emotion of “Book of Life” doesn’t quite take hold as deeply as they might have liked, the journey is fun, fast paced, and so stinkin gorgeous enough that you probably won’t care. I will hold it’s memory in my mind as a B+