The Book of Life

The Book of Life ⭐⭐⭐

Director: Jorge R. Gutiérrez. Cast:

I’ve been hearing a lot about this one, but I’ve only got around to watch it. Produced by Guillermo del Toro (you can just about see his imprint in some of it) , this has always been eclipsed by the similar-themed Pixar Coco (even though that was released 3 years later). Comparing the two of them comes rather natural : they are both beautifully animated (though two different styles), they are both set in Mexico, the both take place on the “Day of the Dead”, they both deal with the “other world”. However this one seems to cram so much storyline in it that it feels like it would have needed at least 3 hours to allow it to breath and given it the time a subject and a story like this deserves.

This film seems to run so fast that you hardly have time to catch your breath. Not a moment goes by without an action scene, a sudden twist, a slapstick gag (often a quick side one, coming in just about in the corner of the screen), people screaming, fighting, running. Whether it’s doing this because it thinks its viewers have a short attention span and it’s afraid of losing them if it slows down, or whether because there is just too much story in it, or possibly because they’re afraid that dealing with such a subject like death might feel too gloomy if it wasn’t counterbalanced by all the rest, or maybe all of the above. Whatever the reason, the result is something which is yes beautiful to look at, yes brave, well-intentioned and potentially deep, but it’s so crammed with stuff that unfortunately it doesn’t give you the time to digest it and crucially to “feel” it. There’s no reflective moment to realise the importance of what we are seeing, no time to feel sorry for the dead or happy for a son finally being able to see his deceased mother again, nor to enjoy the amazing colours and beautifully designed world, nor the costumes or details of the characters, just because everything moves so fast.

The music by the usually reliable Gustavo Santaoalla (who does his best for the understated cues) never seem to stop blasting through, once again contributing to the “cacophony” and feeling of everything being “overstuffed”.

But I don’t want to sound too down on it. In fact I quite liked it and there’s certainly a lot to take away from it, but Pixar’s Coco is just on completely different level, emotionally and in terms the message it’s carrying and how it’s delivering it.

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