Reviewed by: Samuel Chetty
trying to fulfill the expectations of your family
pros and cons of following your heart
facing your greatest fears
spirits in the Bible
about death as explained in the Bible
|Featuring:||Channing Tatum … Joaquin (voice)
Zoe Saldana … Maria (voice)
Ron Perlman … Xibalba (voice)
Christina Applegate… Mary Beth (voice)
Danny Trejo … Skeleton Luis (voice)
Ice Cube … Candle Maker (voice)
Gabriel Iglesias … Pepe Rodriguez (voice)
Diego Luna … Manolo (voice)
Ana de la Reguera … Skeleton Carmen (voice)
Anita Briem … Rosie (voice)
Cheech Marin … Pancho Rodriguez (voice)
|Director:||Jorge R. Gutierrez|
|Producer:||Reel FX Creative Studios
Twentieth Century Fox Animation
|Distributor:||Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation|
“The Book of Life” tells a story set in Mexico with many supernatural elements. La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman) are each a god-like ruler of an afterlife realm. Xibalba wants to expand his power to La Muerte’s realm, so he makes a bet with La Muerte involving three kids on Earth: Maria (Zoe Saldana), Joaquin (Channing Tatum), and Manolo (Diego Luna). The bet is that if Maria grows up and marries Joaquin, Xibalba takes over La Muerte’s realm. If she marries Manolo, Xibalba will no longer be allowed to interfere with humans’ course of events. Both Xibalba and La Muerte use supernatural powers to try to guide the lives of their favored guy.
Manolo comes from a family of bull fighters, and his father is determined that he too will be a bull fighter. But Manolo’s conscience has a problem with killing bulls. Unfortunately, he is disgraced by the community because they cannot understand that objection and see him as a coward or rebel against tradition. Maria is sympathetic toward him, but marrying him would be stigmatized, and the social pressure for her to marry Joaquin, a skilled fighter with Xibalba’s aid, is very strong.
Although the story unfolds with enough twists to hold one’s attention, when all is said and done, many plot devices seem familiar. Regarding characterizations, the movie seems to just be going with the flow of contemporary social trends, without injecting its own ideas. Manolo’s personality and role are a lot like the protagonist from “How to Train Your Dragon,” echoing the perception that youth audiences favor characters whose benevolent nature leads to questioning tradition, without further building on that idea very much. And there’s Maria, another spunky female heroine who can fend for herself in contrast to female stereotypes in old-fashioned fairytales who rely on a nobleman. Though I do think that is a good change, after a series of such characters in recent years, I don’t think that trait by itself merits automatic points today. What starts out as a novelty can become another stereotype, if it is not continually developed.
The movie’s strong points are its animation, scenery, and music. Musically, it is definitely better than average for an animated musical. Although there are not any songs that I like enough to download and listen to repeatedly, the songs are fun or pleasant to listen to while watching, and they don’t make the movie feel slow. As for humor, there are witty lines in the dialog, but there are also a lot of cartoonish antics that some audiences may find more amusing than others.
From a Christian perspective, the movie’s spirituality is concerning. While many animated kids’ movies have magic of some sort, The Book of Life’s magic has allusions to real world spiritual practices, as opposed to being completely fictional. For instance, The Day of the Dead celebration is a major part of the story. There are also food sacrifices to deceased family members, many displays of Cross symbols (often next to skull symbols), and characters who look like nuns. The movie’s concept of the afterlife is that if people remember you after you die, you live in a great realm, but if nobody remembers you, you live in a dreadful realm. I am not aware of any branch of Christianity which holds that view.
The characters Xibalba and La Muerte appear to be rulers at the highest rank in the universe. Both Protestants and Catholics of various types are likely to find content that does not jive with their faith. In my opinion, this movie is in a different category from something like The Chronicles of Narnia (virtually no one actually believes there’s a fantasy world in their wardrobe). “The Book of Life,” on the other hand, references supernatural beliefs or practices that kids could look up via real world resources, and they may notice references to their own faith in the film, making it more influential or confusing.
Aside from the supernatural elements, the amount of objectionable content is low. There is a fighting sequence between humans and bull-like creatures from the villain lasting several minutes near the end which, while not gory, had action more intense than usual for a PG movie. There are some characters with potentially scary physical appearances. Language is limited to a single use of “bull” as a euphemism and some name-calling. There is no sexual content except for kissing. The only alcohol or drug content is when characters mention having been to a bar while acting slightly drunk.
All things considered, I have decided not to give “The Book of Life” a positive recommendation. The movie does not uniquely offer enough positive elements to outweigh the spiritual concerns. There is a good message about sticking to your convictions despite social pressure, but the presentation is not very creative. The story and characters might have been more original twenty years ago, but in 2014 it gives me a déjà vu feeling.
Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
Though THE BOOK OF LIFE is entertaining with some positive moral, redemptive messages, the movie’s dark syncretistic worldview and false elements require extreme caution.
—Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…The visuals outshine the story… Del Toro was clearly a hands-on creative producer here, bolstering the visual aesthetic of a production that can more comfortably introduce a younger generation to his darkly fanciful sensibilities. …
—Geoff Berkshire, Variety
…the Bible differs in significant ways from this vibrant (if occasionally mildly violent) animated adventure's take on them… death and salvation, heaven and hell…
—Bob Hoose, Plugged In
…beware that little ones will be asking lots of questions about an Afterlife location where you either go to a beautiful place so long as loved ones are praying for you and still remember you, or one where only sad and lonely souls dwell because no one remembers them.
—Phil Boatwright, Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…even at 95 minutes the film felt too long. But the overall impression is a lively, funny, sweet tale about being true to yourself and your calling. Unfortunately, the theology/mythology surrounding the story will make it problematic for parents trying to instill biblical truth in their young children. …
—Susan Ellingburg, Crosswalk
…Visually arresting but dramatically rote… should score points with families looking for kid-friendly movies that reflect aspects of their Mexican cultural heritage. [2½/5]
—Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle
…It’s exciting, funny, and exuberant. The colors, the music, the vocal performances, and the wild visual imagination all feel as if those making it were having actual fun. … [3/4]
—Michael Ordona, San Francisco Chronicle
…delivers family-friendly themes with humor… [A-]
—Nancy Churnin, The Dallas Morning News
…‘The Book of Life’ alive with color, if not wit… [2/4]
—Sara Stewart, New York Post
…Gorgeous visuals compensate for a familiar storyline… “The Book of Life” provides much amusement with its inspired musical choices.
—Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
…it’s that rare gem of a 'toon that delights both child and adult. [A-]
—Marc Snetiker, Entertainment Weekly