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Animated movies typically do nothing for me.

The cold cockles of my heart are not warmed by song and dance. If anything, the whole charade annoys the shit out of me. Maybe it would be different if I had children. But my hatred grows whenever I see a movie that’s supposedly made for children yet advertised as if it is also for adults.

The Book of Life masquerades as adult entertainment, but this is really a children’s movie at heart. All the pee and poop jokes make it easy to tell. Somehow, it still manages to not be so horrible.

As a story, The Book of Life is unremarkable. Situated as a story within a story, the opening introduces the audience to a ragtag group of misbehaved children arriving at a museum for a school field trip. However, the tour guide (Mary Beth voiced by Christina Applegate) leads the children through a special entrance and to a hidden room that houses the Book of Life—a tome containing every story in the world.

Book

Mary Beth tells the children about a struggle between the forces of good and evil. In this story, La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) rules over the Land of the Remembered while Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman) rules over the Land of the Forgotten. It doesn’t take a genius to find out which side is good and evil.

Like all great Mexican children’s stories, it’s all about gambling. In this particular piece of folklore, the focus centers around a bet between La Muerte and Xibalba over which young boy—Manolo or Joaquin—will win the heart of our young beauty, Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). If Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) marries Maria, then Xibalba will reign supreme in the Land of the Remembered while La Muerte is banished to the Land of the Forgotten. If Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) marries Maria, then La Muerte will rule over both realms and Xibalba must never interfere in human affairs again.

LaMuerteXibalba

Not exactly the most interesting stakes, but let’s forgive that fault from a children’s movie.

It’s all about managing expectations, which can get carried away when you learn about Guillermo del Toro’s involvement. The Book of Life is written and directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez, but you can certainly see Guillermo del Toro’s influence as a producer. While the story plays out in rather standard fashion, there are enough entertaining wrinkles that can capture the imagination of adults.

In particular, The Book of Life surprised me by not succumbing to the temptation of the song and dance routine. The story isn’t interrupted every few minutes by a light-hearted melody. Instead, there are only a handful of songs that sporadically break up the plot points and there’s mostly a reason for the song.

When Manolo breaks into a cover of “Creep” by Radiohead, I immediately bought into this movie at that exact instance. It was a perfect rendition of a widely recognized song that’s used to propel the story—elevating the sequence above more than the typical pointless song and dance dribble.

There’s nothing here that will escalate to Frozen’s “Let It Go” tune, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as The Book Life is an infinitely better movie than Frozen. Walking a fine line between schmaltzy and serious, The Book of Life brings vibrant Day of the Dead visuals to life that everyone should enjoy.

World

With the correct concoction to satisfy both children and adults, The Book of Life is the rare type of movie for everyone. Don’t expect this movie to be on the same level as the all-time classic Pan’s Labyrinth because it’s not a direct product of Guillermo del Toro. Blended with equal portions of elements from Nightmare Before Christmas and Romeo and Juliet, The Book of Life is a quality film with substantially better presentation and execution than most animated movies—including The Lego Movie earlier this year.

Now a generation of children will grow up with Ice Cube telling them to write their own story.

Churros

4 out of 5 stars

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