By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
Halloween is not over yet. Other cultures have their own variant. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a significant two day fiesta spent celebrating the life and legacy of loved ones who passed on. The first day of November is dedicated to the young who sadly passed before they had their time in the sun and the second day for adults. That is, the Día de los Inocentes (“Day of the Innocents”) precedes Día de los Muertos (“Day of the Dead”).
The entertainment industry can dwell on the complexities of what this event means or go full on horror. I prefer the happier context and only a handful of works exists.
El Universal reported Dia de Muertos, a new animated work directed by Carlos Gutiérrez Medrano, is coming this month! It’s anglicized title is Salma’s Big Wish. As for whether this will get any North American screenings, is Shout! Factory listening?
The movie tells the story of Salma, an orphan girl undergoing an identity crisis who sets up an altar every year hoping her loved ones may visit her one day. However, she doesn’t have any personal items to put in their altars. With the help of her friends Jorge and Pedro, she travels to the underworld where she will discover the true meaning to death.
This director also revealed important elements in honour of this day will be part of this film’s cinematic tapestry. The horseman from the central-western region of Mexico will be featured, and this work ventures into ancient times to bring Xolotl, the dog god to the fore.
There will also be cute animated shorts titled “Sugar Skulls” which is reported to be now airing on Discovery Kids till November 20th.
These two works may not hit all international markets. It’s terrific to see how widespread this celebration is though. In the meantime, those curious in what this day means have the following animated works to partake in:
The Halloween Tree (1993)
This fantasy-adventure is quite the educational product. Designed to be like Magic School Bus, this movie teaches a bunch of children out during All Hallow’s Eve and getting quite a treat! They learn about how other cultures respect the day when the dead is allowed to wander the Earth. This movie features legendary sci-fi author Ray Bradbury as the narrator and Mr. Spock (aka Leonard Nimoy) as a crotchety guide.
The kids learn about why skeletons are very prominent during the Day of the Dead festival. The story revolves around the kids concern for a fellow mate. Pip is headed to the hospital for an emergency operation, and they don’t want to continue having fun when they are more concerned for their fellow man. They find the ghost of their best friend and embark on a perilous adventure through time and space as they attempt to catch up with him.
Scooby-Doo! and the Monster of Mexico (2003)
This franchise rarely gets deep into providing a lesson to viewers. It’s more about the slapstick comedy of how Scooby-Doo and gang ends up in the strangest of cases. In this piece, they are searching for the Chupacabra!
The location sets the tone for what the gang must figure out. On the day of the festival, and as offerings are made, the ghost of Señor Otero appears to tell his family they must sell the hotel! The gang happen to be staying there and immediately question why.
This direct to video is a fun romp to watch for the season. When all the stories are formulaic, it’s easy to replace a holiday for any other and redress the supernatural to something else and call it Scooby Doo and the Jersey Devil for his next outing.
Book of Life (2014)
This film by Jorge R. Gutierrez and Doug Langdale is more of a adventure romance than a full study of this celebration. While fun and action-packed, the onus is more on Manolo’s decision to be a musician than bullfighter. Yes, this work shares a lot of similarities with PIXAR’s work in themes–especially in being true to yourself and what you want to do–but its fantasy trappings set it slightly apart. The gods La Muerte and Xibalba play a significant role in narrating this story and say destiny is not shaped by other people, but by your own heart.
Miguel is a spunky boy who dreams of being a musician than a cobbler. Sadly, his family disagree with his life choices, but when push comes to shove, he has to obey his elders. Secretly, he teaches himself how to play the guitar, but during the days leading up to the festival, he does the unthinkable: to remove a guitar that belonged to his great-great-grandfather and before he knows it, is wisked away to the underworld where he has to learn valuable lessons before he can come home!
There’s more to this tale than this plot. In what this boy learns is that family matters. Reverence for all is key to why this film is beloved, and so is mending fences.