A visual feast that might be this year’s best justification for 3D, The Book of Life treats viewers to a multicultural animation bonanza. Growing up together in the small Mexican town of San Angel, three young friends—Manolo, Maria and Joaquin (eventually voiced by Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana and Channing Tatum)—are inseparable until Maria’s father sends her to Europe. Reunited as adults, the two men—one a bullfighter, the other a soldier—are now rivals for Maria’s affection. Unbeknownst to the trio, they are also pawns in a bet between dead lovers, La Muerte (v. Kate del Castillo) who rules the Land of the Remembered and Xibalba (v. Ron Perlman) who rules the Land of the Forgotten. A sore loser, Xibalba cheats, leading to Manolo’s death, but the musical young bullfighter heroically crosses the realms of the dead, running into his dead ancestors, including his mother and grandfather (wonderfully voiced by Danny Trejo), if he is to save his hometown from the giant bandit, Chakal.
Director-cowriter Jorge R. Gutierrez has created a charming blend of Mexican and American culture, including American popular music, with renditions of songs by everyone from Biz Markie to Rod Stewart to Mumford & Sons. The computer-animated wooden dolls used to tell Manolo’s story within a story (Christina Applegate’s museum tour guide recounts this tale to several young delinquents) straddle the line between CG and stop-motion puppetry.
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