The Book Of Life
Director: David Ayer
Starring: Brad Pitt, Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman
134 mins; Class 15;
KRS Releasing Ltd

Mexican writer, director and producer Guillermo del Toro has created a body of work based on the fantastical.

It is easy to see why he agreed to produce The Book of Life, a fascinating piece of animation from fellow Mexican Jorge Gutierrez.

A museum tour guide named Mary Beth (voiced by Christina Applegate) leads a group of unruly children to a room hidden within the bowels of the building.

Therein lies the Book of Life, which tells every story in the world. Once there, she tells the children a story that is legendary in Mexican folklore.

Two gods look over the town of San Angel. La Muerte (Kate del Castillo) is the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, while Xibalba (Ron Perlman) is the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten.

During the annual Day of the Dead festival, La Muerte and Xibalba become interested in three young children – the two boys Manolo (Diego Luna) and Joaquín (Channing Tatum), who are both clearly in love with their best friend María (Zoe Saldana).

The gods bet on whom Maria will eventually end up marrying: if María marries Manolo, La Muerte will go on ruling the Land of the Remembered, but if she marries Joaquín then Xibalba will then rule over both the Land of the Remembered and that of the Forgotten.

The cast is uniformly great, their enthusiasm for the project evident

There are many Burtonesque tones in this animated fantasy that explore some dark subjects, yet even those easily creeped out will be charmed by the many attractions The Book of Life has to offer.

Yes, it is a dark subject, but it is magically told and illustrated with bright and vivid colours; characterised by some over-the-top yet vulnerable characters, and peppered with some highly entertaining musical numbers.

It is a love letter from Gutierrez to his native Mexico and he presents the country, its people and its traditions with an infectious joie-de-vivre despite the preoccupation with death that fills the subtext. How refreshing to see Mexican characters that are not drug lords or corrupt officials.

The cast is uniformly great, their enthusiasm for the project evident. Tatum has a blast as the overbearing and rather obnoxious Joaquin; the lovelorn and at times desperate Manolo is given many romantic overtones by Luna, while Zaldana channels her many feisty live action characters in the independent and no-nonsense Maria.

Del Castillo and Del Toro favourite Perlman make the most of their friendly rivalry.

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