Nominated for a Golden Globe, The Book of Life is directed by Jorge Gutierrez but also carries the creative imprint of producer Guillermo del Toro. It's a serious title to give a family animation, but they manage to throw together life, death and Mexican folklore and emerge with a broad appeal, vibrant, ghoulish and beautifully animated film.
The story is narrated by a sassy museum tour guide who takes a group of kids on detention into an exhibit on Mexico. They're introduced to two demi-gods, La Muerte (Kate del Castillo), who rules the Land of the Remembered (a colourful, joyful place for the dead), and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who rules the Land of the Forgotten (a grey, lifeless world).
To entertain themselves, these ex-lovebirds make bets, and the story unfolds around a bet over which young Mexican boy will win the heart of Maria, their childhood sweetheart.
This is the jump-off point for a wonderful fantasy world where the character design is inspired by wooden marionette dolls - some boxy, some curvaceous - and some with faces like cubist paintings. It's also where the story engages a more Hollywood theme - the love triangle.
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Manolo (Luna) grows up to be a bullfighter but wants to be a musician, and Joaquin (Tatum) is a soldier who keeps the town safe from bandits. Maria (Saldana) is the love of their lives and a modern-day young lady who is more interested in following her dreams than those of her family.
The film slowly shifts its attention to Manolo when in order to be with his loved one, he finds himself on an adventure through the underworlds, where he bangs into Ice Cube playing God. It's funnier than it sounds.
Giving this film a contemporary edge is the soundtrack filled with popular songs re-worked by Manola. Some work better than others, and let's just say that Manolo's version of Radiohead's Creep is, well, interesting and unexpected.
Though visually eye-popping, where The Book of Life shines is in the unique way it presents the themes we see in all family films; the importance of family and being true to yourself. Although it celebrates the Day of the Dead, this is, as our museum guide reminds us, a film about living.
Voices: Channing Tatum, Zoe Saldana, Diego Luna
Director: Jorge Gutierrez
Running Time: 95 mins
Rating: PG (Violence)
Verdict: An eye-popping, adventurous animated Mexican myth.