15 Completely Random and Geeky Facts about Día de los Muertos

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Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) observes the memory of the dead, but it is a colorful celebration for the living. Image: Lisa Kay Tate

Thanks to feature length animation releases like 20th Century Fox’s Book of Life and Disney/Pixar’s upcoming Coco, the vibrant celebration of Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos) is getting some much deserved attention.

Día de los Muertos is Latin America’s answer to All Soul’s Day. It has been part of the Mexican cultural landscape for at least 3,000 years and has elements of the “pre-Hispanic” indigenous cultures who displayed various items during certain rituals to symbolize death and rebirth. It is also sometimes infused with Christian elements, particularly as it falls at the time of the Catholic observance of All Saint’s Day on November 1 in honor of all saints, known and unknown, and All Soul’s Day, November 2, the Catholic celebration of the faithful departed.

Growing up on the border, Day of the Dead has been a part of my world as long as I can remember.

In celebration of this day, here are some fun and geeky facts about Book of Life, Coco and the geekier side of Day of the Dead:

1.When the Guillermo del Toro-produced The Book of Life was released in 2014, it featured the music of Acadamy Award-winning Argentine composer Gustavo Santaolalla. It also brought back composer Paul Williams who provided lyrics for “I Love You Too Much,” and “The Apology Song,” Williams also co-wrote another colorful hit, “The Rainbow Connection” for The Muppet Movie.

2. Mexican actor Diego Luna, who voiced (and sang as) Manolo in the film, is better known by Star Wars Fans as Rebel Alliance Captain Cassian Andor in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, but of course, you already knew that, right?

3. Book of Life director Jorge Gutierrez, co-creator of Nickelodeon’s El Tigre: The Adventures of Manny Rivera, didn’t let his animators visit Mexico for “research” during the making of the film. He wanted them to avoid the more “touristy” aspects of the celebration.

4. When Pixar’s Cars 3, was released this summer, it gave audiences a glimpse of Coco’s set when race car Danny Swervez (voiced by Mexican born NASCAR driver Daniel Suarez) enjoyed comforting images of his home.

5. Coco comes out November 22 in the United States, in time for the holiday season, but it had its official premiere at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico on October 20 and was released in Mexico on Oct. 27, one week before Day of the Dead. Disneyland Park has featured Day of the Dead celebrations in its Frontierland every year, but this year the Paradise Pier area at California Adventure Park added Day of the Dead themed activities in celebration of Coco’s release.

6. Those familiar with Mexican history and pop culture, will notice skeletons in Coco based on artist Frida Kahlo, actor and comedian Mario “Cantinflas” Morneno, revolutionary Emiliano Zapata, singer Jorge Negrete, actress María Félix, actors Pedro Infante and Luis Aguilar, luchador “El Santo”, composer María Grever, electronic artist Camilo Lara, and more.

7. For those wondering, the breed of Miguel’s dog in Coco, Dante, is a Xoloitzcuintli, Mexican hairless. The “Xolo” breed has been found in Aztec tombs dating back at least 3,500 years and is often seen in the paintings of Frida Kahlo. Its lanky, unusual appearance, had led to some people mistaking it for the border area legend, La Chupacabra.

8. Yes, there will be Pixar Easter Eggs in Coco. Here’s a hint to one: look closely at the piñatas in the marketplace.

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Day of the Dead has inspired pop culture from Oingo Boingo to James Bond. Images © MCA Records and MGM.

9. Day of the Dead celebrations are traditionally done in private homes or at cemeteries, but Mexico City hosted its first large Day of the Dead parade in 2016, after the attention from the Day of the Dead opening sequence from the 2015 James Bond film Spectre.

10. One of the defining elements of Day of the Dead is the ofrenda (offering), an altar or display celebrating the life of a person or persons who has died. The largest Day of the Day offering in the Guinness World Records Book is being set at this year the capital city of the Mexican state of Hidalgo, measuring 767-square meters (more than 8,000 square feet). It beat out the previous record set at Fiesta Cala de Veras in Mexico City on Halloween 2014.

11. The Crow: City of Angels, the much less successful sequel to the 1994 cult hit The Crow, based on the James O’Barr comic series, was set in Los Angeles during Day of the Dead. After some failed attempts to create another feature film, there may finally be a third Crow movie in the works directed by Corin Hardy (The Hallow) and starring Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa.

12. It’s hard not to think of Jack Skellington or Mr. Bonejangles when we hear the voice of Danny Elfman, but the former Oingo Boingo frontman has dancing with skeletons long before that. Their band’s albums often featured skeleton images. Dead Man’s Party, released in 1985, featured a Day of the Dead inspired cover. Elfman performed the album’s title song live for the first time in 20 years at his Nightmare Before Christmas Halloween concert in 2015.

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Lady Mechanika and Ghostbusters comics both feature Día de los Muertos adventures. Image: Lisa Tate

13. Joe Benitez’s steampunk hero Lady Mechanika has a three-part story in 2016, “La Dama de la Muerto,” set in 1869 Mexico around Día de los Muertos. The first chapter was available again as part of Free Comic Book Day’s 2017 HalloweenComicFest.

14. Another Day of the Dead-themed free comic release for 2017 was the reissue of volume two of the IDW’s Ghostbusters comic series “Happy Horror Days” by Erik Burnham, Dan Schoening, and Blair Shedd. The series was first released in 2013.

15. Jarritos Soda, founded in Mexico in 1950, has created a series of three new Day of the Dead inspired promo videos, all of which can be seen on their Facebook page.

For some fun, geeky Day of the Dead inspired crafts, try these mini Alter de Muertos, and Punisher or Hydra papel picado patterns.

Remember, according to Cicero “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”