The Book of Pretty Colors

Everyone is made of wood in Book of Life. They’re chiseled and sculptured with little joints plus a bit of scattered, sloppy paint. At some points they show scrapes or a small sliver is missing. You can see they lived.

This is a beautiful film, so much so it would not be difficult to see it under the physical guidance of stop motion studio Laika (Boxtrolls). Arguably, this Spanish fairy tale may have carried more personality if created with the dolls it purports to feature.

Instead, computer driven work adds vividness and life to a film absorbed in a multi-cultural backdrop. Book of Life may seem hard locked to Mexico’s lineage – bullfighting, Day of the Dead, Mariachi bands – but it is often quite contemporary and open to outside bias. Influences of localized pop love songs, animal rights, the push of progressive gender roles; at times Book of Life feels compelled to dodge its own inherent flair and thus the entire appeal.

Book of Life is welcoming however. In the opening, kids are brought into a museum on a school field trip, taken into a special room, and a woman begins to spill folklore native to Mexico. The color used is astonishing and attractive.

Ideas of safe passage into the afterlife and respect for those deceased are glowingly shared – few American children films would approach death with such overdressed vigor. And better, these images, while obviously soaking up the realities of a certain belief system, are fresh. There are no attached books or source material; Book of Life is much its own idea from the mind of someone who respects his lineage.

Storylines feel sidetracked with narrative tug-of-wars tying to balance all of the key players

That someone is first time feature director Jorge R. Gutierrez who spills out a story of whimsical good versus evil, if not in the broadest sense of usual mythology. La Muerte (Kate Del Castillo) and Xibalba (Ron Pearlman) are friendly competitors, even lovers in their spiritual domain. Their game – a seemingly meaningless bet as to who will win the heart of San Angel’s boisterous young female Maria (Zoe Saldana) – causes expected havoc. Family problems, clashing personalities, a bandit clan; Book of Life becomes crowded.

Often, the movie is too reliant on the strength of its color balance and ingenuity in design. Storylines feel sidetracked with narrative tug-of-wars tying to balance all of the key players while ensuring profit through bumbling side characters and comic relief. The only slowdowns occur when showing off, admittedly well deserved show off sessions or not.

Even still, Book of Life is easy exposure to multinational customs. It’s pleasant to see something this distinctive at a time when animation seems to be running together in the hunt for toy sales. Imperfect as it may be, Book of Life has spunk and notable merit for making tradition so accessible.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

The hero @ 26:33

Textural qualities make Book of Life special on Blu-ray. Those splashes of paint, scuff marks, wood grains, and clever dressings are brilliantly displayed on this format. Definition and sharpness are to animation’s par: exquisite.

There are problems. Notably, aliasing is often frequent. Fox’s disc struggles with the lines of guitar strings and certain complex elements such as the flowers in La Muetre’s hat in the first act. Backgrounds can become victim too, with some leniency given for the complexity and limited impact.

Of all these things, the color remains the show stealer, decimating almost any competing disc in terms of variety or brightness. Layers cover layers and then more layers cover those, creating a raw spectacle of spectacular hues. Down into the Land of the Remembered, Book of Life takes off. Once there, viewers are into fabled ground: The ultimate HD showcase. Contrast and depth are stupidly great. Suddenly those moments of aliasing are but a pittance.

Pedestrian if capable 3D adds a bit of zest. Well rendered sights feature some superb minutiae, particularly the flowers worn by La Muetre. A few 3D-specific moments strike with force, from a sword pushing for maximum pop-out to slow motion objects tossed toward the virtual camera. Down into the Land of the Remembered, falling confetti forces the depth for a sightly scenario.

In general, the foregrounds and backgrounds incite limited dimension. It’s a safe 3D disc, unwilling to try anything too aggressive or push for additional depth. If you happen to buy the 3D edition, great. If not, you’re missing a minimal amount of showmanship.

2D-Video ★★★★★ 

3D-Video ★★★☆☆ 

Book of Life loves using the full width of the soundfield. Few discs track dialog outside of the center better. If only a touch off-center, words will stretch into the stereos and center to push things just off the frame. Further? The appropriate stereo handles it totally.

Of course this goes for all audio effects. With a 7.1 playspace to work with, directionality is a workout. Effects play with the surrounds and track as needed. Given the vibrancy of certain action scenes, the opportunity to move around is a constant. Fun sequences include a small stampede of pigs, bull fighting arena, and otherworldly challenge as one of the characters must pull of an Indiana Jones-esque feat by dodging humungous stones.

The only downer is LFE accompaniment, notable but too spotty in its use. Some low-end thunder is added for marching bulls and the finale certainly riles things up with footsteps and monument smashing. Those are bursts though, brief flare-ups rather than something to chew on. Some scenes of equal scale barely elicit a bump.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

Director Jorge Gutierrez begins with a commentary, laying out a personal track with regards to his approach and how the film was molded to his own life experience. The rest of the bonus slate is passable if forgettable.

A short, The Adventures of Chuy, gives some extra time to comic relief. A Closer Look at Book of Life is a brief behind-the-scenes piece, interviewing voice actors and Gutierrez. The Music of Life focuses on the mixture of tunes and why such a style was chosen. Digital Carpenters is interesting at least, detailing the style and Gutierrez’s frustrations from when films deviate from their concept. A music video and jukebox are left.

Extras ★★★☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.