You’ve heard of The Walking Dead? These are the Salsa-Dancing Dead.
The Book of Life tells the story of one man’s journey through three worlds to be reunited with his true love. Is it muy bueno or does it deserve a quick burial? Well, let’s take a look at the trailer and find out.
So who stars in this movie? Diego Luna of Elysium plays our hero Manolo. His love interest, Maria, is Zoe Saldana of Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Trek Into Darkness. Channing Tatum of White House Down and 21 Jump Street plays Joaquin, Manolo’s rival. Other stars include Ron Perlman, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, and Danny Trejo. The director is Jorge R. Gutierrez, who is making his directorial debut with this film.
The trailer opens with a trip to the museum, and the tour guide says, “Follow me. You need to see something special.” You specifically. Not all these other kids; they don’t deserve it. Just you. “All the world is made of stories, and all those stories are in here: the Book of Life.” If all the world is made up of the stories contained in a book that size, it really must be a small world after all. She calls this story “the greatest story” (setting the bar a little high there, aren’t we?) and tells us of the Day of the Dead, on which the spirits can travel between worlds. Apparently the Underworld’s travel agency offers an annual special package that day.
We see Manolo and Joaquin fighting over Maria, although I wouldn’t consider it a fair fight since Manolo’s only weapon is a guitar. Since Maria is a strong independent woman, she naturally knows how to swordfight, so she breaks up the battle and calls them both fools. Because they were sword fighting? You joined in the foolishness too, lady. Their little spat inspires the spirits, though, as Xibalba and La Muerte make a wager on whom Maria will marry. It’s not much of a wager since there aren’t any stakes, but who am I to question the dead?
Manolo gets an early lead by setting up a date with more candles than a church at Christmas, but Xibalba decides to cheat (so much for those Ancient Rules by which the wager was supposed to be set) and has his pet snake bite Manolo just as he proposes. Talk about wet blankets. Our hero wakes up as Jack Skellington and turns to see a cross between Epcot Mexico and the Joker’s parade from Tim Burton’s Batman. This is the Land of the Remembered, which I’d forgotten all about. “Don’t try to take it all in at once,” a new friend advises him. Just focus on that one tiny dot over there and then go out from there.
This is a land of walkways with giant gaps that make transportation nearly impossible, daily fiestas, and all-you-can-eat churros. But even with all these wonderful amenities, Manolo longs to reunite with Maria. So Xibala, rudely walking all over the food, offers him a solution: complete a series of tasks, and he’ll get to see his fiancée again. Kind of undermines your cheating strategy when you offer even the slightest chance of success to your rival.
Manolo rides through town on a horse (probably shouting “The Spanish are coming! The Spanish are coming!”), a giant death bull chases the comic relief characters, and Manolo climbs around inside a marble labyrinth that would have Indiana Jones freaking out. A dragon attacks our hero, who just sort of stands there while it happens, and Joaquin makes a woman faint by saying, “Hey girl.” This guy’s got more charm for unnamed female extras than Gaston. And the trailer ends with the comic relief guys playing “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie and getting crushed by a cactus dropped by Maria’s pig. An independent female character in a white top and colored skirt who hangs around with an amusingly intelligent animal … this is the Hispanic version of Esmeralda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame!
So based on the trailer, do I recommend this movie? Yes, yes I do. It’s got a unique style, good voice acting, and enough Latin American culture to be this generation’s Saludos Amigos! Of all the movies coming out this Halloween season, this is probably the one I’d actually want to take a kid to, so families will be especially drawn to this film. I may not get to it in theaters, but I’ll definitely check it out when it comes out on DVD.
I’ll have to keep the volume down when I do, though. I don’t want to make enough noise to wake the dead.
The Book of Life is owned by 20th Century Fox.