This animated film focuses on a love triangle in a Spanish town between the beautiful Maria (Zoe Saldana), the sensitive musician Manolo (Diego Luna) and the hunky Joaquin (Channing Tatum, not even attempting an accent, which is actually kind of okay with me). The main thing to recommend this film is the astounding animation; it’s one of the most visually splendiferous and imaginative movies I’ve seen in a really long time. The character designs are fantastic, all the way down to the details; villainous Xibalba’s pupils are red skulls, for instance. And the environments are equally beautiful, especially once we get into the lands of the dead. The story is occasionally somewhat nuanced; the film is really almost as much about the friendship between Manolo and Joaquin and the way that’s tested by their rivalry as it is about the ultimate love story. The film allows characters that could easily have been cardboard cutouts, like Joaquin and Xibalba (wonderfully voiced by Ron Perlman, by the way), to become real, surprisingly complicated characters. The story is occasionally surprising as well. I don’t like the frame story, in which a museum tour guide tells the main story to a group of bored school children. All too often the movie cuts back to that frame story in order to really hammer home the morals or just recap the events; I’m not sure why this was thought necessary and, as an adult watching the film, I found it mostly corny and annoying. But the film has some amazing moments that I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget. There’s a stunning moment when a character dies and we see the death just about to happen and then we cut to a single candle in the room of candles that signify life go out. And then there’s a musical moment that . . . I just don’t even want to spoil, it’s so surprising and completely out of left field. It was a moment where my jaw literally dropped. A lot of the humor is kind of lame and doesn’t land and the frame story is unnecessary and corny; but the gorgeous, creative animation and the surprisingly interesting characters help the film overcome those flaws. Recommended. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – corny humor and an annoying frame story drag this film down a bit, but the astonishingly creative and gorgeous animation, as well as a surprising focus on character, ultimately win out. 3 ½ stars.