Dazzling Artwork – The Book of Life (2014)

Vibrant.  So this is about two boys and a girl that grew up together.  When they all cross paths again as adults, the men (Diego Luna, Channing Tatum) try to best each other for the hand of the woman (Zoe Saldana) in marriage, but soon find themselves in fantastical different worlds, given that there are gods intervening.  This is some of the most impressive and inspired animation I have seen in quite some time.  The art direction is on a complete sugar high, and everything moves at a mile a minute so as to always keep your attention constantly engaged.  This may seem tangential, but have you ever played the video game Psychonauts?  It’s truly a classic game, but the reason I bring this up is that there is one level that centers on a matador, where everything is covered in radiant colors against black velvet.  This entire movie is like that level design, on some serious uppers.

book of lifeThis isn’t concept art, this is what this movie actually looks like.

The biggest name attached to this from a production standpoint is Guillermo del Toro.  While not all of his movies succeed in spades, he almost always knocks production design out of the park.  Even though he didn’t direct it, you can tell that him merely having a hand in producing this went a long way.  It is always stunning to look at, and it utilizes this animation technique that makes it look like a blend of stop motion and CGI, but I suppose that is a testament to how good computers are these days.  Regardless, the end result is gorgeous.  That said, I don’t know how well this will play to kids; much like Paranorman, this is animation that is not really geared with the child entirely in mind, as it gives a wildly radical way of viewing death.

la_ca_0828_the_book_of_lifeThink less “mourn death”, and more “celebrate life”.

As impressive as the animation is here, it is showcased in an imperfect film.  The jokes fall flat about 20% of the time, but that’s not really a deal breaker.  There is a framework storyline surrounding this that is completely unnecessary and uninteresting, and it being there makes it seem like the makers didn’t trust the audience to pay attention, so they smack the proverbial ruler against the desk to wake students up every 15 – 20 minutes.  All the actors do fine voice work, but there is one obtrusive actor that does not: Ice Cube.  It’s like he’s in a completely different movie, and it’s really not what this story needed; I really don’t know how many more movies he’s going to break the fourth wall, look into the camera and say that “it was a good day”, but I dream of a day where he can stop doing it in animated family films.  There is a wide assortment of remixed songs that actually do gel with the kinetic animation, and all of the production values are present.  This is a worthwhile watch, and it may just be the background party movie of the year because it is lively and beautiful.

The Book of Life (2014) ***1/2

– Critic for Hire


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