The Book of Life (movie review)

I get the feeling that The Book of Life was a passion project for writer/director Jorge Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro came on as a producer with the clout to get stars attached so the movie would get made… and then some other studio producers came along and turned it into a jukebox musical as much as they could.

This is all speculation on my part, but I get the feeling that making this movie into a jukebox musical was a directive from the studio, not a request, so Gutierrez’s response was, “Fine, here’s ‘Creep.’ Oh, you want more songs? Fine. Here’s ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ and ‘Just a Friend.’ Suck on that for a while.” The movie also features “I Will Wait” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You” because… I dunno. The point is the music is lame and not memorable, and when it is memorable, that’s because it’s terrible. The rest of the music is just mediocre – completely forgettable.

Speaking of things I don’t like about the movie, it’s a framed tale: kids are being told the story at the library. (Oh, and the kids are called the detention kids. The detention kids? What’s that? I’ve never heard of that expression before.) This just breaks up the movie’s flow and adds unnecessary exposition. I know the story might seem too complicated for small children, but then, this movie will scare the bejesus out of kids too young to follow the plot, so they probably shouldn’t be watching this flick anyway.

The Book of Life is an animated feature film, so… racist comic relief? CHECK. Ice Cube portrays The Candle Maker – it’s like they tried to combine the dragon from Mulan and the genie from Aladdin and added ten thousand CCs of racial stereotype. It’s the most painful aspect of the movie.

Besides the songs.

On the other hand, the movie has excellent visuals. The character design is vivid, the color pallette is palpable and there’s a ton of cool looking set pieces – my favorite is probably the maze, but it’s hard to pick just one. There’s also some wonderful voice performances from Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum and Diego Luna as well as some supporting work from Christina Applegate, who is always great and should be in most films and TV shows.

The story is well-rounded and interesting, even if it’s predictable. On the other hand, the framing and the songs make the movie bloated, and it feels longer than 95 minutes. There’s a really tight 80 minute cut of this flick out there somewhere…

Unless you love animated quasi-musicals, The Book of Life is not worth your time. (Or, you should watch it if you see it on a plane for free, like I did.) It’s not terrible, but it could have been a lot better. I’m giving it a 6 out of 10. Your kid might love it if they don’t crap themselves with fear.

About Jamie Insalaco

Jamie Insalaco is the author of, and editor in chief of

Posted on January 5, 2015, in movie review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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