Matt really disliked this movie but I couldn’t disagree more. The Book of Life is dazzling and vibrant and steeped in beautiful Mexican culture, even if it does fudge the facts a bit. Yes the accents are a bit wonky and the movie embraces stereotype – but that’s just it. They own it. There’s a real sense of pride but it’s never alienating. It may occasionally poke fun at itself but I thought it was sensitive and illuminative.
And finally an animated feature that, when most people would rather show another talking dog or a cuddly dragon rather than a person of colour, brings us a whole host of Mexican heroes that teach a lesson in love and diversity to a group of white schoolchildren. I thought it was refreshing. I thought it was electrifying to look at, Day of the Dead has inspired so much art and this movie is a real testament to all that came before it, and sorry Matt, but I even loved the mariachi-inspired covers of Radiohead’s Creep and Mumford & Sons I Will Wait. I thought it was a brilliant way to incorporate Mexico’s modernity into a film mostly set in the 19th century.
The story had lofty ambitions but didn’t quite live up to its own goals. The female character balks at her hand in marriage being given away for her. She seems an independent sort, strong, dare I say a feminist, but is sadly animated in the disgusting tradition of cartoons – her eyes are bigger than her hands, her ponytail is wider than her waist, and she’s about half the size of her male counterparts (who are glamorously styled after traditional marionettes). A real disappointment, not to mention the fact that the plot relies on a wager placed between gods as to which of two childhood friends will marry her, because offering a girl as a prize to be won is apparently necessary even when we’ve already established that this girl can think for herself.
The pacing is quick, maybe too quick. Adults, at least, will want to soak in the artistry and the legends but the momentum is unrelenting. The voice work is pretty great, although some of the casting did give me pause. Why are Channing Tatum and Ice Cube voicing Mexican characters? Did they get lost on their way to a 23 Jump Street rehearsal? I mean, I’m relieved that Channing Tatum at the very least isn’t affecting a disingenuous Mexican accent, but I feel that with so much Latino talent, they could have easily found someone better and I can’t think of any reason why they chose to go with a whiteboy. I realize we’re already stretching our imaginations to include a Mexico where the people speak English (some accented, some not). And I also realize that I probably don’t even have the right to comment on this. And while this movie isn’t a perfect representation of Mexican tradition, it’s a friendly start. It’s familiar enough that American audiences, even American kids, won’t be put off, while bridging a cultural gap that I hope will lead to more family movies doing the same.