THE BOOK OF LIFE – A Review by John Strange

By: John ’Doc’ Strange
Directed by: Jorge R. Gutierrez
Cast: Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Placido Domingo, Kate del Castillo, Hector Elizondo, Diego Luna, Cheech Marin, Ron Perlman, Zoë Saldana, Channing Tatum, Danny Trejo.  Ana de la Reguera, Eugenio Derbez, Gabriel Iglesias, Ricardo “El Mandril” Sanchez
MPAA Rating: PG (for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images)
Selig Rating: FULL PRICE
Runtime: 95 Min.
Each holiday season we see seasonally-related films.  Most films for Halloween are horror-filled stories like Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th.  There is another aspect to our Halloween holiday that relates to the Mexican Day of the Dead (Dia de Muertos), a celebration where the living pray for and honor those of our families who have gone before us.
The Book of the Dead is a story based on the folklore behind the Day of the Dead.  In the small town of San Angel, there live three young people who are the best of friends, doing everything together.  Manolo (Diego Luna) is destined to be a great bull fighter but truly wants to be a musician instead.  Maria (Zoe Saldana) is one of his best friends and the love of his life, sent away when they were children to be educated in Spain (and separate the young lovers).  Joaquin (Channing Tatum) is the son of the town hero who died protecting the town.
La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) are husband and wife deities who control the levels of the afterlife.  La Muerte commands the level for souls who still have someone who remembers them.  Xibalba rules over the realm for the souls no longer remembered.  Xibalba REALLY wants to change the arrangement but he is stuck with the arrangement having lost a bet with his wife.
Watching the trio (Manolo, Joaquin, and Maria) at a Day of the Dead celebration, Xibalba proposes a new bet.  If Joaquin gets the girl, Xibalba wins and moves up to rule The Land of the Remembered while La Muerte will take the reins of the Land of the Forgotten.
As is expected from a trickster of Xibalba’s exalted status, he cheats.  He gives Joaquin a medal that protects him from harm.  For a man like Joaquin, trained from early childhood to be a warrior, this gives him an advantage none of his opponents can overcome.  He quickly becomes the new hero of the village.  In the meantime, Manolo is having problems with his father, the great matador Carlos Sanchez (Hector Elizondo).  He refuses to kill his first bull in the ring which shames the elder Sanchez.  It seems that Joaquin is way ahead in the unknown (to them) competition.
Manolo is the type of character that makes stories like this a treat to watch.  He is the “every man” whose family demands he follow in his father’s footsteps in the family business when all he really wants is to play the guitar given to him by Maria and, eventually, marry her.
Ah, Maria.  She is not the typical maiden.  We soon see she is the equal, if not superior, to the two men.  When the bandits attack, she is in the middle of the fight slaying foes right and left.  When she is struck down, Manolo is tricked into following her to the Land of the Dead.
This opens us to meeting Manolo’s ancestors including his mother, Carmen (Ana de la Reguera), and the third deity of the realm, the Candle Maker (Ice Cube) who makes a candle for each soul in the living world and the Land of the Remembered but doesn’t generally interact with any of them. 
Manolo and his ancestors, with the able assist by the Candle Maker, play a huge part in bringing a happy ending to this story.  What began as a bet between deities ends as a lesson in right and wrong, love and honor.
The lives of Manolo, Maria, and Joaquin are presented within the confines of the Mexican world that celebrates those who have gone before us.  The animation magic of Dallas’ own Reel FX Creative Studios and the story by Jorge R. Gutierrez and Douglas Langdale, rich in Mexican folklore, is a worthy candidate for awards season consideration.  It has a combination of love and humor that will appeal to the whole family. 
The Selig Rating Scale:
FULL PRICE – Excellent movie, well worth the price
MATINEE – Good movie
DOLLAR – OK movie
CABLE – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
FREEBIE – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn't paid for it.
COMMERCIAL TV – Commercials and cutting to the allotted time will not hurt this one.
FORGET IT! – Bad. If you see this one, do yourself a favor and keep it to yourself.
GET YOUR TORCHES – BAD! – Burn the script, the writer, the director and maybe even the actors!
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