Hi there, do you have a passing fascination with Dia de los Muertos? Is Grim Fandango one of your favorite games perhaps? If, like me, you love a well done animated film and you’ve been eyeing The Book of Life due to its bright colors, unique art style, and the Guillermo Del Toro name dropping, then I’m here to tell you not to bother. Seriously, just don’t.
I haven’t been this disappointed in a movie since I walked into The Forbidden Kingdom thinking it was a Crouching Tiger style wuxia film. Have you ever known that a movie is really going to suck from the very first scene, and you’ve made a terrible mistake in buying your ticket? Yeah that’s The Book of Life. It starts with a bunch of forgettable kids getting off of a bus to take a museum tour, and by tour I mean they are snuck into the Mexico room where they are told a story from the Book of Life. So, not off to a great start, but salvageable, unfortunately it just starts to devolve from here.
The Book of Life has a major problem with over-exposition, a problem that a lot of movies seem to have these days, but this one is especially bad. Since we have the storyteller angle, this movie commits the incomprehensible sin of where the narrator explains what we are seeing on the screen, or explains the scene we just watched. On top of that, every single line is either standard uninspired exposition or an attempt at a joke. So the entire time I feel as if I’m being talked down to as if I’m idiot that can’t understand simple concepts displayed on the screen. And don’t give me that “It’s a movie for kids” shit! So is The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it didn’t do this, so is Up and it has one of the best openings I’ve ever seen. A silent opening I might add.
Another thing, when you see the trailers for this, what is it that intrigues you? Is it the real world stuff, or is it the the whole Land of the Dead angle with all the Dia de los Muertos skellingtons? Obviously that’s a rhetorical question. Unfortunately, the movie spends the majority of its time in the real world, in fact we don’t even hit the Land of the Dead until near the end and then it speeds through all of it. So basically the entirety of the movie is the fucking setup, and you end up sitting through over an hour of what basically amounts to what should have been a Beauty and the Beast style prologue. And it would be one thing if this setup was interesting, but it’s mostly a painful love triangle and heavy handed “be yourself” schlock.
It’s a real shame because the idea of a musician’s quest through the Land of the Dead to find the love of his life has so much potential, and the setting and visual style is one that is sorely absent from our pop culture pantheon. Speaking of, the art was really nice, and did feel like a breath of minty fresh air in a long line of samey-ness. It’s just too bad that the writing, story, and music were so poor. Although, the acting was competent, and it’s always nice to hear Ron Perlman’s voice. And hey, thankfully Del Toro didn’t actually direct this disappointing mess … but he did produce it, and stamp his name on the front of it … maybe it would have been better if he had directed it? I don’t know. I hate to be so negative, I try to give the benefit of the doubt, I really do, but really, save yourself the trouble. Just install Grim Fandango and play that again (Which will be a lot easier very soon with a re-release is the works).