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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2014

entry arrow12:02 AM | The Color of Living

I had no plans whatsoever in watching Jorge Gutierrez's The Book of Life (2014), the new animated film produced by Guillermo del Toro. The trailers made it look like the film equivalent of a sugar rush -- all that colour, all that schmaltz, all that zaniness. The trailers gave me one big headache, and so when the film parked itself in the local cinema, I merely shrugged. But someone I knew wanted to watch it with me, and I'm not one to decline a movie invitation. I like going to the movies, and I was sure the film wouldn't be that bad. When the screening was over, I found it wasn't bad at all. It was actually good. It was very, very good. True, the screen vomited with an avalanche of colours, and yes there was an abundance of zaniness. But it was all hyperkinetic colourful madness that somehow felt well-designed, intentional, organic. I think that turn-around for me is due mostly to the superb direction. Mr. Gutierrez knows how to tell a story, and in fact draws you in by dramatising that ability. The film opens with a bunch of rowdy students being bussed in to experience a day at the museum. But some intrepid lady tour guide takes them to a different adventure instead, showing them a closed-off exhibit about Mexico's Day of the Dead, and then regaling them with a story told from a book she called "The Book of Life." And in one tale, she unfurls the story of La Muerte, the Queen of the Land of the Remembered, and Xibalba, the King of the Land of the Forgotten -- both guardians of the souls of all our dearly departed who also happen to be sparring wife and husband. Xibalba is bored with the tedium of his kingdom and wants to take over the fiesta-land ruled by his wife. And so he proposes a wager: they randomly select three kids -- two boys and a girl, and all of them great friends and playmates -- and they try to see how destiny will lead them in the name of love. Will the boy who is a sensitive singer now being trained to become the greatest matador in the world win the girl's heart? Or will the boy who has the courage and the fighting spirit of a thousand armies emerge victorious? Manolo, the singing matador, is La Muerte's champion, and Joaquin, the soldier, is Xibalba's. They fall for the girl Maria. "Let the best man win," Joaquin tells his best friend Manolo. It is of course sad to see good friends become rivals. But the bet is on, and the story rolls out into a delightful amalgam of a believable love story, a movie musical (featuring contemporary songs! that rendition of Radiohead's "Creep" will haunt me forever), a showcase of dozens of delightful minor characters who all steal the spotlight, and insights about carving out a path for oneself (among others) that do not feel like moral lessons. Spinning all of these is an animation style that looks fresh and new: the characters look like wooden puppets at play in candy land, but animated with the vibrance of the "life" in its title. I love this film. I wish more people would watch it. There were only ten people in the theatre I watched it in, and it felt like a disservice to this gem of a film. It's better than what Pixar is churning out these days.


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