Disney’s Nod to Día de Muertos

Sleepy kids on a shuttle bus from the economy parking lot, as we head to the airport terminal.

When the pandemic started and I was trapped in my home out of fear of the virus, I suddenly wanted to immerse myself in a community. Partially because I love Disneyland, and partially because of a psychological rejection of being imprisoned by an unseen virus, I began making my Disney plans for as soon as it felt safe to mingle in a sea of people. I wanted the trip to be joyous, so I invited two people who would love it as much as me: my kid, Kellen and their partner Cameron.*

*As a parent of a transgender person, I have been educated that when someone begins using a new name, it is disrespectful to continue to refer to the previous name. Thus, I will say for anyone who has visited me before and is trying to keep up, that this is my same one and only child, and their same partner of nine years. 🙂

Los Angeles, California, beneath our plane. Cameron pointed to the hills left of the skyscrapers and said, “It’s the HOLLYWOOD sign!”
He was right! You can barely see it in my blurry photo, but there is the HOLLYWOOD sign.

For people who are curious, DisneyLAND is in the Los Angeles, California area. DisneyWORLD is in the Orlando, Florida area. We spent four full days in Disneyland and the adjacent park, Disney California Adventure. I have lots of photos and decided to break them up by categories to make it easier to sort through them. My first topic will be Día de los Muertos because it was timely. Disney sets up their display the end of September, it continues throughout October, and the two big days are November 1 and 2, then overnight it all disappears. Our first day in the park was November 2, so I was eager to find what we could before it all came down.

Día de los Muertos is a multi-day family holiday of joyful celebration that is mostly associated with Mexico. It is to honor and respect friends and family members who have died. Ofrendas (altars) are built for the dead, often including skulls, skeletons, coloured paper cut outs, and marigold flowers. Commonly the living will leave the favourite foods and drinks of the person who is dead, and usually there is a photo of the deceased. Researchers do not agree on whether the holiday is based on traditions among indigenous people or if it’s a modified Spanish tradition. Regardless, today it is embraced as a part of Mexican culture, and it is also celebrated around the world, often by people of Mexican heritage. Naturally, that means the US sees many Día de Muertos celebrations, and California especially.

Día de los Muertos display at El Zócalo Park in Frontierland

In front of the restaurant Rancho Del Zócalo is a little area of greenery that they turn annually into a Día de los Muertos area. We spent our entire day in Disneyland that day, so it’s the one we got to see.

The nearby Rancho Del Zócalo restaurant extended the theme.
People crowded into this area to get photos with Mirabel (not pictured here), from the movie Encanto, so I could not get close to this display of musical skeletons.
Another theme you’ll notice is bright fabulous colours. In my opinion, inclusion of bright colours in decor is a Mexican characteristic that is not restricted to Día de Muertos.
The little information poster here mentions two important things I neglected to say: This holiday is to emphasize the continued connection between the living and the loved ones who have died. Also, though it is near the other holiday of Halloween, and the two seem similar on the surface, they are completely unconnected.
Across from the musical calacas (skeletons) is this pretty spot for taking photos. There is a mural of la familia Madrigal in the movie Encanto.

A couple days later we were waiting in line for the Thunder Mountain rollercoaster on the other side of this display. I was able to get photos with a different perspective, and also a shot of Miguel, from the movie Coco. If you have not seen the movies Coco or Encanto, they are highly recommended. Coco is better. They are both beautiful, musical, and excellent for the whole family. The movie Coco is in a setting inspired by Guanajuato and Oaxaca in Mexico, and the movie Encanto is in a setting based on the Columbian towns of Quindío and Barichara.

This time, it’s Miguel from Coco standing in front of the display so fans can get a photo and autograph with him.
There’s a better shot, Miguel posing with what looks like Princess Anna from Frozen, a little Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story, and their mom.

The next day was November 3, which for Disney purposes, is after the official celebration. That day we went to Disney California Adventure Park, where there had previously been more stuff to honor the Día de los Muertos celebration. There was “Arbol de la Vida” or Tree of Life, and a remembrance wall, where visitors can write a message to a lost loved one and leave it there. These were both gone, but some of the decorations remained.

Plaza de la Familia in Disney California Adventures.
Wings in dappled sunlight. These wings were gone the very next day.
This is Dante, Miguel’s Xoloitzcuintle dog who becomes his spirit guide in the spirit world.

Around the rest of Disney California Adventure park, we found a few more places that honored the tradition.

In a bakery window
In Cars Land, here one of the characters (everyone here is a car or truck) is a car calaca.
This was probably our favourite of them all: an ofrenda to the Cars character Doc Hudson, an elder Hudson Hornet who teaches Lightning McQueen some lessons in the movie Cars.

7 thoughts on “Disney’s Nod to Día de Muertos

  1. I enjoyed the movie Coco! Before I saw the movie, I remember being at an event where everyone was getting their faces painted similar to the movie characters. I had no idea what was going on, haha! Great post with colorful photos!

    1. I can completely understand wondering why everyone was getting the creepy makeup, haha! I didn’t know what this was before the movie either. I did a little extra research for this blog post, so now I feel like I understand the basics.

    1. I’m glad you saw Coco. It was not in theatres for long, and so I thought maybe it would not be as beloved as the others, but it has gained a lot of love slowly over time, and that is a good thing.

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