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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: The Book of Life

January 31st, 2015

The Book of Life - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

The Book of Life opened in October and as a family film with a bit of a Halloween flavor to it, I thought it would be a success at the box office. The reviews were certainly great, but it failed to find an audience in theaters. Will it perform better on the home market? Or was there a reason it failed to find an audience in theaters?

The Movie

The film starts in the real world with a group of detention kids going to a museum. Mary Beth takes the kids to a special Mexican exhibit and in that exhibit, she shows them The Book of Life. Within the Book of Life, there are all of the stories in the world. She tells them a story of the Mexican village of San Angel.

Below San Angel there are two kingdoms, the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, ruled by La Muerte and Xibalba respectively. The two have a rivalry, but the Candle Maker is there to maintain the balance. One year on The Day of the Dead, La Muerte and Xibalba have a bet. They see three young kids, Manolo, Joaquin, and Maria. Both Manolo and Joaquin are in love with Maria, so La Muerte and Xibalba made a deal. If Joaquin married Maria, La Muerte and Xibalba will switch kingdoms; however, if Manolo marries Maria, then Xibalba will never interfere with the affairs of men ever again. Only, Xibalba cheats and gives Joaquin the Medal of Eternal Life that will give him courage and prevent him from being harmed.

Their happy childhood together ends when Maria frees some pigs and they rampage through the middle of the village, with one particularly large one being the most menacing. Joaquin saves the general, who is also Maria's father, while Manolo uses his bullfighting skills to stop the boar. As a result, Joaquin is hailed as a hero, but Maria gets sent to boarding school in Spain as a result. Before she leaves, she gives Manolo a new guitar (his was destroyed by the pigs), while Manolo gives Maria the pig she rescued.

We flash forward to the day Maria returns. Joaquin has become the hero of the vilage, while Manolo has become the greatest bullfighter the town has ever seen. Or would be the greatest, but he refuses to kill the bulls. In fact, in his big public display, Manolo easily triumphs over the bull, but refuses to kill it. However, while this causes his father to practically disown him, this makes Maria love him more. Unfortunately, Maria's father has other plans and has arranged for her to marry Joaquin, so that Joaquin will remain in town and defend it from bandits. This plan makes sense, as Chakal attacks that night. Joaquin is able to hold him off, but Chakal only retreats when he sees that Joaquin has the Medal of Eternal Life. Joaquin hopes this is enough to make Maria marry him, but she's in love with Manolo.

This means La Muerte wins the bet, right? Not so fast, because Xibalba is willing to cheat. The details on how he cheats and what the immediate ramifications are is too deep into spoiler territory.

The Book of Life is as good as the reviews would indicate. It has a great style and is as energetic as it is colorful. It also deals with folklore that isn't often explored in Hollywood movies. I really liked the characters, both in the writing and the acting, while there's plenty of action and humor. On the downside, while we rarely see Mexican folklore in movies, the overall plot here is not unique and draws from coming of age stories, father's footsteps stories, love triangles, etc. I guess since the target audience is kids, this won't be too big of a deal and even most critics, many of whom have seen way too many similar movies, said the fresh visuals overcame the less fresh plot. I do agree here. The other major problem that some might have with the movie is the overabundance of style. One could argue that style overtakes substance and this could be a problem for some. For instance, the story we are being told is told to the children with little wooden figures. Because of this, the digital animation includes wood grain in the figures. This adds to the style, but not to the substance. If you already thought the film had too much style, this might push it over the edge. Personally, I was engaged enough by the style that this wasn't a problem.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary with the director, Jorge R. Gutierrez. Up next is a three-minute short cartoon called The Adventures of Chuy, Chuy being the name of the pig in the movie. There is a music video and a Music Machine feature that lets you watch the songs in the movie. The Blu-ray has this plus few exclusive extras. Closer Look at the Book of Life is a ten-minute long making of featurette. The Music of Life is a nine-minute look at the music of this movie. Digital Carpenters is an 11-minute look at the look of the film.

The technical presentation is excellent, as you would expect from an digitally animated film. The level of details is very high, while the colors are simply fantastic. The contrast from the deep black to the bright colors in the Land of the Remembered is especially fantastic. It goes without saying that there are no digital artifacts or compression issues. The audio even better with an engrossing 7.1 surround sound track. The dialogue is always clear, while there is good use of the surround-sound speakers for effects and music.

The Blu-ray costs $20, which is $4 or 25% more than the DVD. That's a great deal for a Blu-ray Combo Pack that has exclusive extras.

The Verdict

The Book of Life is a very good movie with a lot of style that helps it stand out, even if the general plot is more familiar. There are enough extras on the Blu-ray Combo Pack that it is definitely worth the price.

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Filed under: Video Review, The Book of Life, Christina Applegate, Ice Cube, Kate del Castillo, Diego Luna, Ron Perlman, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum, Jorge R. Gutierrez, Emil-Bastien Bouffard, Elias Garza, Genesis Ochoa