The Book of Life (2014)

(On Cable TV, September 2015)  If anyone still needs a reason why diversity in cinema is crucial, The Book of Life should prove to be enough of an argument in itself.  As a middle-budget animated film, it has the freedom to explore a story based on a mixture of old classics, dress it up in colorful Mexican-inspired visual style and wrap it all up in a package easily accessible to a wide variety of audiences.  I may not think all that much about the framing sequence, but once the film gets to San Angel and the stories of Manolo, Maria and Joaquin, it quickly picks up charm and interest.  Reel FX’s animation may not be as polished as Pixar-grade state-of-the-art animated films, but The Book of Life makes up for it through eye-popping visual design, in-between stylized character design (many characters are wood puppets that turn to bone in the land of the dead), a broad color palette and bold flights of fancy.  It is, as a result, almost completely charming.  At two or three moments (usually during musical numbers), I just wanted to hug the film and say “You’re an adorable movie, yes you are!”  Thematically, the film dares to tackle life-and-death in a kids’ film (albeit in a very unthreatening fashion), and writer/director Jorge R. Gutierrez brings a delightfully different point of view to the result.  As a full-spectrum counterpart to Burton’s animated features, The Book of Life is likely to find a devoted audience.  It certainly deserves a wide one.

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