We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
“The Book of Life” bedazzles your eyes and buoys your spirits as it treads upon themes most commonly associated with the macabre universe of Tim Burton. But instead of being gaga for ghoulishness, this Mexican fiesta of animated splendor is packed with visual delights far more sunny than sinister as they burst forth as if flung from an over-packed piñata.
A collaboration between fledgling Reel FX Creative Studios and 20th Century Fox, “The Book of Life” is a rare cartoon feature that doesn’t just deserve to be seen in 3-D, but practically demands it. Complementing the eye candy is a quirkily eclectic soundtrack, including catchy new songs by award-winning score writer Gustavo Santaolalla and Paul Williams of “The Rainbow Connection” fame, and a wide-ranging voice cast. If you always wanted to hear opera great Placido Domingo sing “Cielto Lindo” and its “ay-yai-yai-yai” refrain as if it were Verdi, here is your chance.
That said, the basics of this fantastical fable, whose ingenious puppet-like character designs draw upon the familiar wooden folk-art figures associated with the annual celebration of The Day of the Dead, are somewhat overly familiar despite all the rich cultural references that spice up the proceedings.
There is the ever-popular love triangle in the form of three childhood amigos. Our main hero, the tender-hearted Manola (Diego Luna, whose boyish vocals are a constant source of plaintive pleasure), comes from a long line of legendary bullfighters and is skilled in the ring himself. But his true calling is that of a guitar-strumming troubadour. The boastful Joaquin (Channing Tatum, who taps into his abundant reserve of amusing swagger) is a man of action, a mucho-macho mustachioed bandit-rustler with a broad chest crammed with medals.