The Book of Life – Weak Plot Behind Great Visuals

[Major spoiler alert here, as I’ll discuss in detail some of the plot points]

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The critically acclaimed ‘The Book of Life’ movie taps into Mexican folklore, especially the Day of the Dead. The plot revolves around a wager between La Muerte and Xibalba, the rulers of the Land of the Remembered and the Land of the Forgotten, respectively. The two gods bet on the outcome of a love triangle between two boys and a girl in the town of San Angel. Manolo and Joaquin are different in temperament – the former kind and musically inclined, the latter a paragon of strength and brawn – but they share a deep love for the feisty Maria. La Muerte (you can sort of tell that she’s supposed to be the ‘good’ god) favoured Manolo (definitely the guy who will win Maria’s heart, on the basis that he is the protagonist), while Xibalba was willing to pull out all the stops to make sure Joaquin gets the girl.

The Book of Life is visually captivating. One can gather that much from the trailer itself. The character designs and the design of the worlds (technically, there are three worlds here) featured in the movie are a feast for the eyes. The Land of the Remembered deserves a special mention; stunning is an understatement.

Unfortunately, it seemed that all the attention has gone into the visual aspect of the movie. The overall plot was not terrible, but it is pretty formulaic: Manolo faces obstacles, his identity gets challenged, and getting the girl was easier said than done, but you knew he will succeed in the end. I won’t even count telling you that as a spoiler. However, the details of how he overcomes the challenges were rather disappointing. Except for the bullfighting scene, all his problems were solved too easily to be engaging, thanks to various McGuffins and inexplicable bending of rules in his favour. Seriously, no explanation was given for the exception made for Manolo other than, ‘because we can’.

Manolo and Joaquin are alright as characters, but it was Maria’s character that attracted my attention. Feisty, free-spirited, there were traces of feminism in her, conveyed in a few instances in which she chastised the men around her for their sexist views. Unfortunately, the script did not allow her to remain that way for long because the moment Manolo dies (oh yeah, I forgot to mention that he dies.. sorry), she was persuaded to marry Joaquin. You see, San Angel was under the threat of an attack from bandits, and only Joaquin can defend them. However, Joaquin will only stay to defend the town if she agrees to marry him. After dallying for about 5 minutes, Maria agreed, for the good of the town.

Okay, firstly, can someone just slap Joaquin for his selfishness? Refusing to save a village just because a girl doesn’t want to marry you is a huge mark of assholery. It’s blackmail, and really, if you had to force someone to marry you, how likely is that going to result in a happy ending? Of all people, I expected Maria to give Joaquin a piece of her mind. Instead, Maria wallowed in her dilemma before deciding to sacrifice her own happiness for the good of the people. Whatever happened to her rational thinking?

Secondly, I hate this kind of love triangle where one of the competing parties turn out to be a douchebag. We see this all. the. time. This sort of situation is hardly interesting because what the coveted person faces is an artificial dilemma and the illusion of having an option. Really, between an asshole and the (often wonderful) main character, is there really a choice? Why does one party always have to be evil or mean or generally unlikable? Are the writers worried that the audience wouldn’t know who to root for? The main character (in this case, Manolo) wins just by being a decent human being.

Like I have mentioned the movie is visually very captivating. The action scenes are well thought-out and some parts are just breathtaking. However, there are problems with the storyline that superb animation and creative designs cannot hide: the plot is predictable and there is the lack of convincing explanations for some of the things that happen in the movie. It’s not a boring movie by all means, but it could have been ‘amazing’ instead of ‘alright’.

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