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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
I saw the recently released The Book of Life last night. As far as animated family features go, it was alright. I realize that sounds like I am damning it with faint praise, but there wasn’t anything really wrong about the movie nor was there anything remarkable about either. It just sort of exists and is somewhat forgettable.
Well…that’s not entirely fair. The production values in this film are incredibly strong. It is probably one of the most vivid and stylish CGI animated features out there. The movie had some unique designs for its main characters insomuch that they are all, essentially, wooden dolls (and, before you ask, it makes sense why they look like wooden dolls). Additionally, the film is very colorful which helps highlight the mood and atmosphere of the central holiday it is portraying, namely the Mexican Day of the Dead.
Speaking of which, I was happy to see a mainstream film dive into the mythology of another culture. I am not Mexican, so I obviously do not know how well or not the film portrays the cultural folklore, but talking anecdotally to others, The Book of Life really captures it perfectly. I was happy to hear that. Unfortunately, I wonder if that sort of doomed this movie a bit at the box office. It is the sad truth that sometimes those culturally specific films just don’t translate into big box office numbers.
But even if The Book of Life did set the box office ablaze, beyond the animation, there really isn’t much there. The story is incredibly ho-hum with somewhat one-dimensional characters. I don’t mind that so much, but the films pulls on clichés that a hundred other family movies have done time and again including: women are independent; being a fighter isn’t everything; animal killing is bad; and father is angry son won’t follow in footsteps among others. Unlike The Judge, the cliché story elements do serve a purpose in the overall movie, but nothing interesting is really done with them to make it seem at least a little fresh.
The Book of Life is a bit more kid-friendly than other animated films. However, there visuals and brisk storytelling will likely still keep parents engaged. I wouldn’t race to see this film. I’m sure it will look gorgeous on Blu-Ray. But unless you have a culture connection to the film, you’ll probably watch it once and you’ll be good.