The rules are simple: The good get spared. The bad get spoiled.
The Book of Life (20th Century Fox)
Directed by Jorge Gutierrez
Written by Jorge Gutierrez and Doug Langdale
The Book of life is a cute animated movie about a trio of friends; two boys and a girl, who live in the shadow of their famous parents. The boys are in love with her and fight for her attention. But the friends (referred to as the three amigos in the movie, one of many bad choices) piqué the interest of a couple of wagering deities. Each of the gods of the underworld choose a boy and bet that their pick will marry the young woman one day. It is a promisingly romantic story. And I wanted to like it. It just gets so boring and caught up in explaining the mythology.
It takes all of its myths from Mexico and is very interesting in a day-trip over the border sort of way. But the music is bad. The modern museum setting for the narration is wholly unnecessary (the story is being told to a group of school kids on a class trip). And except to explain why the characters are all wooden dolls, it is pointless. Much like in the Lego Movie, we’re watching toys interact with other toys. But it’s boring and explainy. And for a kids movie, It didn’t hold my attention very well.
The trio get separated. The girl gets sent away because she’s a little trouble maker, when she nearly destroys the town by setting all the animals free. And the boys are raised to continue in their fathers’ footsteps. One boy is the son of a great bullfighter and the other is the son of a dead warrior. The central story doesn’t need the modern, kids in a museum, section at all. It’s a waste of our time. The movie often takes us back to this museum to check in with these nonessential elements. Like in The Princess Bride with the kid and his grandfather. But that movie benefited from leaving the main story and its narrator had full autonomy over it and would change it if the kid asked him to. This is not that.
The movie doesn’t get good until the friends are grown and the girl returns. And they fight for her and it gets romantic again. There really isn’t a bad guy and a good guy between the two, so it would’ve been a fun love triangle if not for the movie’s agenda of teaching us about Mexican death mythology. So one of the boys has to die and take a trip to the underworld and this is where the movie gets bogged down in after-life myth. Not really what I expected from a kids movie. And oh so very explainy.
So now we have three worlds: The underworld (actually two different underworlds but who’s counting), the main world of the main story, and thirdly (oh right, I’m counting) the real world of the museum with the kids and the guide that serves no purpose to the story what-so-ever. And because of this, two of the main characters are neglected for the bulk of the movie.
The dead guy has to get back to the land of the living (obviously), so some long and boring stuff happens in the underworld for him to do that. He comes back to life and he and his friends fight the bandits. Oh did I forget to mention the bandits? Well, so does the movie. It spends too much time describing how good the dead have it in the underworld, and too much time going back to the museum to visit characters and kids that have no names and no back story, that it neglects the main story line completely. If this movie is supposed to hold a child’s attention, it barely held mine.
The Book of Life is interesting. Not funny. I laughed twice through the entire thing. Not nearly romantic enough. We already know the hero gets the girl even when he’s dead there is no doubt. Not very exciting. Talk about the Day of the Dead. This movie is the hour and a half of the dead. They set up themes but then they discard them to teach us about this other stuff. The Day of the Dead stuff. The dead need to be remembered or they suffer for all eternity stuff. Frankly, the boring stuff.
But if they would eliminate the narration section in the museum. Throw it our completely. And use that newly freed up running time for us to get to know the other two friends. Also establish the villains as bad-asses. Because they never do that. So we’re never sure how much jeopardy our heroes are in. And also when the chosen one dies, spend some time with his friends and their lives without him, as well as showing him in the underworld. But they don’t do that either. So what we’re left with is boring and disjointed and so much time is spent away from what was supposed to be the main story, that The Book of Life barely even held my attention.
And in the end, everyone comes back to life (and I mean everyone). She marries the right guy. Even the gods kiss and make up. And they live immortally ever after. Roll credits. Oh yeah, and the music sucked. They use well-known songs and have the characters sing them. It takes you right out of the movie. There just isn’t enough space to put all the things that are wrong with The Book of Life.
It is not a good movie at all.