Movie Review: ‘The Book of Life’

The Book of Life Movie Review

Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna, left) meets Carmen Sanchez (voiced by Ana de la Reguera) in the Land of the Remembered in ‘The Book of Life’ (Photo © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Reel FX Productions II, LLC. All Rights Reserved. )

“Where am I?” asks Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna). “Welcome to the land of the remembered. Don’t try to take it all in at once,” replies a ‘remembered soul’. The afterlife is nothing but parties and fiestas, and Manolo has just arrived after being tricked by Xibalba (voiced by Ron Perlman), the ruler of the land of the forgotten in the animated comedy/adventure The Book of Life.

Ever since they were young children Manolo and his best friend Joaquin (voiced by Channing Tatum) have both been in love with Maria (voiced by Zoe Saldana). Growing up, Joaquin followed in his deceased father’s footsteps and became a military leader and hero of his village. Manolo also followed in his own father’s footsteps and became a bullfighter, even though his true passion is playing guitar and being a musician. Unbeknownst to the two young men, two spirits – La Muerte (voiced by Kate del Castillo) and Xibalba – who are in charge of the afterlife worlds (The Land of the Remembered and The Land of the Forgotten) have made a bet on who will marry Maria for their own amusement.

Competing for her attention and her heart, both Joaquin and Manolo put their best foot forward and try to win her love. It soon becomes clear that even though she cares for both of them Maria is falling for Manolo. This upsets Xibalba who bet on Joaquin winning Maria’s heart, so breaking the rules of the wager Xibalba interferes and tricks Manolo into believing Maria is dead. Heartbroken and lost, Manolo wishes to do anything to be with his true love and once again Xibalba intervenes and causes Manolo to die, thus sending him to The Land of the Forgotten.

Once there, Manolo quickly learns that Maria is still alive and heartbroken over his death and is being comforted by Joaquin who’s sure to marry her now. Realizing he was tricked and Xibalba is to blame, Manolo heads out on a quest to find La Muerte and ask for her help to give him life again and reunite him with his lady love.

Visually breathtaking, the humorous The Book of Life is a dazzling, colorful, and fun adventure which will entertain the entire family. It has an effective voice cast with Diego Luna as the lovesick musician Manolo who can’t make it as a bull fighter because he’s unwilling to kill the bull. Channing Tatum does a great job bringing to life Joaquin, the brave hero of the little village who’s more in love with himself than Maria but still has real feelings of friendship towards Manolo.

Ron Perlman brings just the right amount of charm and menace in his vocal portrayal of the dark spirit Xibalba who keeps forgetting the only real reason he keeps making wagers with the beautiful La Muerte is to have an excuse to be near her and interact with her. Ice Cube is hilarious as the voice and personality of the spirit called Candle Maker who bridges the two spirit worlds and aids Manolo on his quest to regain his life again.

The film also has just the right mix of action, silly humor, and clever one-liners to entertain both children and adults. There are also some great themes and lessons for kids about love, friendship, family, self-sacrifice, and believing in yourself without ever getting preachy or trite.

The Book of Life looks gorgeous with its bright, lush colors, wooden-looking characters and stunning animation. The only flaw is the underuse of the 3D effects, making it unnecessary to pay extra to see the movie in that format.

A true visual delight and very funny, The Book of Life is an adventure sure to be fun for children ages 7-70.


The Book of Life is rated PG for mild action, rude humor, some thematic elements and brief scary images.

– Reviewed by Kevin Finnerty

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Kevin Finnerty

Professional film critic since 2003 and a member of the San Diego Film Critics Society. Host of “The Movie Guys” radio film review show from 2007 through 2013. Film and television critic for and a movie buff since 1973.
Kevin Finnerty

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