The Book of Life | Screen | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Book of Life

Wildly colorful exploration of Mexican folklore is undercut by cheap jokes

This digitally animated comedy from Jorge R. Gutierrez is packed wall-to-wall with gorgeous, colorful imagery, much of it set in Mexican folkloric lands of the dead. (There might be a million sugar skulls in this film.) Amid a sprawling cast, reluctant young bullfighter Manolo (voice of Diego Luna) must undertake a quest and face down fears to become the man he should be, and ensure the worlds of the living and the dead are properly aligned.

The story, with its roots in folk tales about life, death and life-after-death, has potential, and it makes novel transitions between the two realms, even broaching complicated ideas about how memory can transcend death. But its charms were frequently derailed by juvenile humor (two poop jokes in the first couple of minutes), soundtrack-ready pop songs and witless dialogue. The voice of Ice Cube has a small role, and he gets in another "good day" joke — because what kiddie film doesn't need a reference to a song about gang violence, weed and hook-up sex from 1993? Maybe we do all live on in various afterworlds, but some pop-culture references just need to die.