The Book Of Life (2014)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 11/1/14
Producer: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Diego Luna, Zoë Saldana, Christina Applegate, Ron Perlman, Kate del Castillo, Channing Tatum, Danny Trejo, Cheech Marin, Ice Cube, Plácido Domingo

A weepy and overly sentimental tale of true love wrapped in the aesthetic of Mexico's Día de los Muertos traditions. Two friends, Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquin (Channing Tatum), are both in love with a young beauty named Maria (Zoë Saldana). La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) make a wager on which boy will win Maria's heart, with the stakes being the fate of the afterlife. Xibalba tricks Manolo into forfeiting his life, and he has to fight his way out of the underworld to expose Xibalba's treachery. Manolo and Joaquin, once best friends and now bitter rivals, must put their differences aside once more for the greater good, proving that true love (and cheesy music) conquers all.

As you might expect, the style is very festive and bursting with bright colors. The character design can be a bit jarring, but the wood and clay textures are brilliant and give the film both an authentic and magical look. Unfortunately, the narrative is broken up by the inclusion of "real world" segments where a ridiculously sexy museum tour guide (Christina Applegate) educates a group of unruly children on Mexican culture. The voice acting is superb, and all of the players deliver outstanding performances. For the most part, the humor is overly cheap and juvenile, but the film does contain several genuinely funny bits. Hearing Rod Stewart's "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" being played by a mariachi band actually made me laugh out loud. Sadly, the film never quite lives up to its potential and is content with playing it safe as another sanitized clone of the classic Disney princess formula.