I do enjoy a good animated film now and then. I wouldn’t say I am a connoisseur or anything like that, but sometimes a Disney or Dreamworks adventure just hits the spot. Especially during the summer. The other day, my roommates and I went out to eat at a local café called Bon Appetit in Nassau Bay for breakfast. It was the morning of July 4th, and after washing down our food with moccacinos, something in us just said “screw it” and we drove over to Best Buy in nearby Webster, Texas. We picked up a bunch of movies to watch, and Anne-Marie chose to get something called The Book of Life.
I was assured that this film was very good, but in the opening passages I wasn’t quite sure what to think. It starts off in a quirky version of our own world, where the disjointed shapes of some of the characters make them seem like they are half-inspired by kids’ drawings. I mean- did you see the proboscis on that museum janitor? So we’re in a museum. It’s a school fieldtrip and the tour guide is this eccentric woman that manages to capture the interest of the snickering, sarcastic reprobates with a mythical tale about Mexico’s Day of the Dead. But this is all a framing device for the true narrative. I think that’s what threw me off at first. When we jumped into the tour guide’s story and the film’s artwork seemed more settled and less schizophrenic, I was able to relax and enjoy myself. In short, the narrative is about two deities of the Mexican folk religion (in which is incorporated many of the Aztec beliefs), who watch from on high three Mexican children. Even at an early age, the two boys- Manolo and Joaquin- are competing for the affections of the girl, Maria. The two gods, presumably out of boredom, decide to place a wager as to which of the two lads will one day marry Maria. The film then proceeds to follow their lives as they grow up, and how the love triangle unfolds.
I won’t say any more about the film in case you want to watch it. But I really enjoyed it! It kind of reminded me of some other animated movies we have seen recently; particularly Kubo and the Two Strings and Moana. All three of them had these mythical, folkloric connotations to them, taking us to fantastical places of pure imagination. To realize the scale of these dreamlike worlds effectually you have to have a solid team of animators and artists. All three of these films were stunning to look at, and I think I may have liked The Book of Life the best. The art style of this film, in which the characters are brought to life through the application of the school kids’ imagination to wooden dolls, is unlike anything anywhere. Every scene is beautiful.
I have always been interested in the stories of folklore and myth, such as Oedipus Rex and The Odyssey. They always seem to be about larger-than-life themes, playing with raw emotion like jealousy and passionate love. Someone always makes a fatal mistake that changes everything, or someone is cheated by a sly manipulator. These kinds of stories always seem to resonate with me, which is probably why I like Shakespeare so much, because so much of his stories are derived from folklore and legend. And like I said- the wonder of the backdrop is superb. The film really does capture the romance of colonial Mexico, blending the historical elements of things like bullfighting with pure and unadulterated fantasy. It’s not afraid to be strange and slightly macabre, and there were moments (like when a certain someone gets decapitated) that were at once comedic and disturbing, and this reminded me of aspects of Kubo– like the fact those freaky banshee women with hockey masks spent the whole film trying to gouge a prepubescent boy’s eye out (his one and only remaining eye, I might add). Eye gouging. They love a bit of that in classical mythology. You can’t escape it. Just look at Oedipus Rex, or Shakespeare’s King Lear. It’s a great tool for writers when it comes to symbolism, but that’s about all it’s good for.
Anyway, The Book of Life is hilarious and highly watchable. I was fully immersed throughout the whole thing, and I definitely recommend you try it. It might not be your favorite animated film- I’m not even sure it’s mine- but it is definitely one that you need to see at some point in your life. Hell, I can’t stop thinking about it.
How did you guys like the film? Thinking of giving it a go? Leave a comment!