After two weeks of waiting, the Dia de los Muertos episode of Elena of Avalor has finally graced us with its presence. I’ve talked a lot about this show on the blog and there’s a good reason for it. While there are plenty of princesses out there, Elena might be the only one, or one of the only one’s who leads her kingdom and solves problems on her own or with the help of her close friends. It’s a show which tackles important issues and does it while being diverse and forward thinking. This episode was special for a lot of reasons, and we’ll get to all of them, but at the center was something we all need a reminder of sometimes: Life deserves to be celebrated.
This week, Elena and family were preparing for a festival in which they honor the souls of those lost. First of all take a moment to appreciate that this show is even talking about Dia de los Muertos. Not Halloween. Something I love about this show is the conviction to stick with the Latino heritage and showcase it in every episode and that was really shown here. Also, all the snacks for this holiday look delicious. Where do I get some of those? Of course, this celebration has special meaning to Elena and her sister because of the loss of their parents. That’s important because it really gave this episode an emotional edge that I hadn’t considered. Elena has a a lot of reasons to be sad when thinking of their loss. But instead she chooses to celebrate them for who they were, and in doing so, really embodies what this holiday is all about.
Of course, things take a turn for the weird when, as setting up the alter at the graveyard, Elena suddenly realizes that she can see and talk to ghosts. This heralds the return of a character I’ve been asking about, Zuzo, a spirit fox. He informs Elena that her time in the amulet might have given her some extra powers and seeing spirits on Dia de los Muertos is one of those. One can only wonder what other tricks she has up her sleeve. In being able to see spirits, she ends up helping an old woman who has passed away convince her family to not sell her restaurant, but instead learn about her old recipes in order to make the restaurant great again. It’s a touching little story of honoring one’s family and still moving forward at the same time.
Zuzo only comes around so often. I think we need one more photo of him.
My favorite part of this episode, however, was in the last few minutes when we discover that Isabel didn’t want to go to the festivities because she misses her parents and feels that if she goes to the graveyard, it will hurt too much. Pay attention parents because here is a great scene about speaking to children about death, loss and recovery. I love that Elena doesn’t sugar coat this. Yes, their parents are gone. And that’s really sad. There’s no way around it. BUT Elena chooses to celebrate their lives as she remembers them on this day, in order to make it hurt less. And having Isabel do this as well is all part of the recovery process for these two. It’s a really beautiful character moment, but also a great example of how this show transcends many animated shows on television to have that bigger heart that we expect from a full-fledged Disney feature film.
I’d been warned that this episode was a tear-jerker and in the last moment of the show, they finally got me. Having Elena see her parents was a perfect moment. No words were needed, just knowing looks. You can tell they’re proud of her, but also that she is proud of herself for the ways she has worked towards following in their footsteps. The fact that she doesn’t just jump up and ask them twenty questions about how she’s doing or how she can do better shows this great confidence and thoughtfulness. She is a strong Princess, and though she makes mistakes, she leads with her heart, so she always gets to the right answer eventually. And all of this can be seen in a simply look between her and her parents. It was the perfect way to end a fantastic episode.
Of course, there is a laundry list of other amazing things to mention here. The animation is superb! I always want to rewatch the moments with Zuzo as he is brilliantly animated in his movements and gestures. The song, Festival of Love, is easily one of my favorites of the show. The performances of the characters resembled something of a Latin version of Be Our Guest. The food looked delicious and I loved seeing all the characters in costume. More than anything, I love the amount of culture that is fit into each episode. And a lot of it sits in the background. Much like a visit to Disney World, I find myself looking for the little details. The special Dia de los Muertos treats or what is put onto the altars in the cemetery. I’ve used this word about this show before, and I’ll use it again. The diversity in this show is effortless, and while diversity always SHOULD be effortless, that doesn’t mean that it is.
Director Elliot M. Bour and Writer Silvia Olivas should be incredibly proud of themselves. This is a masterpiece done in 2o minutes. It represents some of the best, emotionally driven and well animated children’s programming on television. There’s so much heart in this show and a real sense that everyone working on it cares about every little piece. The story telling finds itself nearing the levels of Disney Animated Films or even Pixar and I can’t stress enough how wonderfully refreshing and relatable this show is. This episode left me with a warm feeling in my heart, but also a wonderment as to what else Elena got from being in that amulet. Perhaps only time will tell.