When a disobedient selection of schoolchildren are taken on a trip to a museum, their vocal apprehensions are soon turned to stunned silence, when taken through a secret entrance by a guide (Christina Applegate), who bewitches them all with the remarkable, magical story of La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Perlman), who are responsible for looking over the afterlife, the former focusing her attentions on ‘Land of the Remembered’ – similar to heaven, while the latter takes charge of the hell equivalent, ‘The Land of the Forgotten’. However when Xibalba wants to exchange roles with his counterpart, they leave it to fate – waging a bet on which young boy between the good-natured Manolo (Diego Luna), backed by La Muerte, and the boisterous Joaquin (Channing Tatum), backed by Xibalba, will win the heart and marry the beguiling Maria (Zoe Saldana) when they come of age.
Revelling, and celebrating Mexican culture – in particular the annual Day of the Dead holiday, The Book of Life explores faith, love and religion in an exceedingly accessible way, and without agenda. It’s often a tough subject to discuss the afterlife with a young audience and the notion of death, but Gutierrez has done a commendable job, and one that should enlighten, educate and entrance a younger crowd, as we celebrate the deceased and the memories they’ve left behind.
Such spiritual themes are enhanced by the vivacious, vibrant aesthetic that truly looks the part up on the big screen. It’s unique too, and overtly colourful, doing justice to the fantastical premise that exists. It’s a shame to deviate away from the initial group of schoolchildren however, as while the crux of this story lies within the fabled Manolo and Joaquin tale, the majority of laugh out loud moments derive from the present-day reactions of the insubordinate kids, as they comically respond to the tale at hand.
Nonetheless, there’s enough appeal about the principal narrative to keep the audience engrossed, helped along by the credentials of the voice cast, as having the likes of Tatum and Saldana on board brings nothing but class to proceedings. Plus, we also have a collection of singing nuns, which is never not a good thing.