THE BOOK OF LIFE
The Book of Life not to be confused with Hal Hartleys sardonic Biblical End of the World film The Book of Life (1998) is one effort where Del Toro draws on his Mexican heritage. The film itself is centred around the Day of the Dead celebrations and characters that have a mythology in this, most notably La Muerte and Xibalba (even if the film rewrites the more complex relationship they have towards something of animation standard). The film has been placed in the directorial hands of Jorge R. Gutierrez, who was previously the principal creative influence behind El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera (2007), an animated Nickelodeon series made in the US concerning a teenage Mexican superhero.
What strikes you first about The Book of Life is its extraordinarily vibrant colour palette. It reminds very much of a Henry Selick film The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996) and Coraline (2009) with its rich visuals and also Selicks lack of being afraid to venture into dark areas. Even more astonishing is the conception of the characters. These are designed in ways that no other animated characters have been before everyone comes with massive bulky torsos and arms that look as though they are made of ornamented Lego blocks that are supported on tiny matchstick thin legs. The characters are even made to resemble classic puppets you are frequently reminded of a film like Strings (2004) and have hands and limbs that are jointed, while their faces often have a texture as though they have been carved from wood.
The Book of Life is an amazingly colourful film. A few years ago, Disney made films such as Pocahontas (1995), Mulan (1998), Lilo & Stitch (2002), Brother Bear (2003) and The Princess and the Frog (2009) that made an effort to embrace different cultures around the world. In its ready embrace of Mexican traditions and mythology, The Book of Life feels like the best cultural film that Disney never made. Nothing in it feels like formula, everything bursts with wit and creativity. The story works strong and clear it is a very happy film where the heros journey to arrive at the end feels indeed triumphal. The heroine is also an inspired choice one who stands up to and frequently runs rings around the two men competing for her attentions, even if we know well in advance who will win her hand.
The Book of Life has a number of similarities to the subsequent Pixar film Coco (2017), which likewise ventured into the afterlife on the Day of the Dead.