At last we have a triple-A CGI-animated movie that is gloriously Mexican in its art design and setting in The Book of Life!
The good news is: It’s gorgeous.
The bad news is: Otherwise, it sucks.
OK, sucks is probably a little harsh. But political correctness went to war with Mexican culture and the audience lost.
The story is that of two daring boys, one from a powerful military family, and one from a family with a long bullfighting tradition, who love the same girl. She goes off to a nunnery (or whatever) in Spain (or wherever) for years after a prank she pulls, and in her absence the two boys grow into men and burnish their resumes in the hopes of impressing her when she gets back.
¿Quién es más macho?
What could be more Mexican, sí?
Perro…but…no, wait, perro is “dog”, I mean “pero”. But. Pero grande.
The prank the girl pulls is to free the pigs because they’re so cute, but they go on a rampage, endangering people and destroying the village.
Aw…come on. Really? How “first world problem” is that? It’s not “hey, chica, people are gonna starve to death ‘cause you let out all the food”, it’s “save the piggies!”
It gets worse, though: Our hero is Manolo, the bullfighter. Of course. Because the other kid, Joaquin is a nasty military guy, and even though he keeps the village safe year after year, and even though his father apparently died doing the same, military is icky and yucky and not sexy like bullfighting.
Oh, and of course, bullfighting? That’s monstrous. Except how Manolo does it, because he doesn’t kill the bulls. This relies so heavily on ignorance, it’s just sad. After a bullfight, killing the bull is a mercy. But, of course, if they actually took a stand on bullfighting, they couldn’t include it in the movie, so they do this stupid half-measure that just increases the ignorance in the world.
’cause you know the kids seeing this are going to take away this dumb notion that bullfighting would be just peachy if they didn’t kill the bull.
But, okay, I’m overlooking all this stuff, and the second act gets a little better.
Wait, I forgot to mention the framing story. And the framing framing story. Basically, the good goddess La Muerte and the evil god Xibalba have made a bet for the fate of the happy land of the dead, which is a grande fiesta of remembered people. If Maria picks Manolo then La Muerte wins, but if she picks Joaquin Xilbalba gets the happy land of the dead, and La Muerte is consigned to the the other underworld, where everyone is forgotten and sad.
Whoa, guilt trip much?
Actually, I liked this part of it. At least it felt somewhat authentic. The framing framing story involves a bunch of school kids being told this story.
Now, it must be said, the happy underworld is breathtaking, a truly glorious realization of the whole “Dia de los Muertos” aesthetic. Back when Burton did Alice, I dinged it for not reaching the stylistic level of American McGee’s Alice, and one could make a similar comparison between The Book of Life and Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango. But there’s no shortcomings here, not in the art design.
It all comes down to a sloppy battle at the end, as all things must, I guess.
Typical stunt casting. ’cause when you think Mexican, you think Channing Tatum. He’s the military guy, I think. There’s Diego Luna and Zoe Saldana…I picked out Ron Perlman and Hector Elizondo. The former does a lot of fine voice work and the latter has just always been very distinctive.
The Barb liked it, though, and the RT is high (around 80%); she ranks the last four movies in this order: The Book of Life, Rio 2, The Boxtrolls and How To Train Your Dragon 2.
So, there you go. Beautiful but kind of boring. And the kid liked it.