Film review: ‘The Book of Life’ takes all the life out of a rich cultural tradition

One of these days we’ll get a great screen depiction of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. The Book of Life ain’t it.

Two stars

The Book of Life Voices of Diego Luna, Zoe Saldana, Channing Tatum. Directed by Jorge R. Gutierrez. Rated PG. Opens Friday.

The animated The Book of Life opens with a museum tour guide telling a group of misfit kids about Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and the ensuing movie is about as fun as a mandatory school field trip. With clumsy exposition, the movie transitions to the Mexican town of San Angel for a bland story about two men—soulful musician and bullfighter Manolo (voiced by Diego Luna) and cocky soldier Joaquin (Channing Tatum)—vying for the affections of the lovely and feisty Maria (Zoe Saldana). The dueling deities of the underworld have each placed their support behind one of the men, but the outcome is neither uncertain nor particularly interesting. With corny jokes, flat dialogue, a thin plot, blocky animation and a soundtrack full of lazily mariachi-fied versions of pop songs, The Book of Life is a weak representation of a rich cultural tradition.

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