Why Disneyland’s Latino-style vacation festival matters

The push for diverse content in film and television has real-world implications, especially in a pop landscape driven by brands, franchises, and easily recognizable intellectual property.

This is evident at Disneyland Resort, where recent additions of big name theme parks have celebrated the “Star Wars” and Marvel universes. Yet more steadily and more quietly, the park’s Disney California adventure has been transformed to focus its events on the cultures that the Disney films represent rather than the films themselves.

The most notable is Holiday Party, which this season runs until January 9 and is anchored by the Disney ¡Viva Navidad! street parade featuring the three caballeros led by Donald Duck. A folklore event that from start to finish is a wild celebration of Latin art and music, Viva Navidad! uses characters from Disney’s goodwill film “The Three Caballeros” as a starting point to present folk dancers and mariachis as well as 12ft tall mojiganga puppets, ie papier mache sculptures Large scale that stuns going up and down a small part of California Adventure.

Viva Navidad! became something of a mission statement for live entertainment in California Adventure.

Beyond the Festival of Holidays, which itself offers more entertainment recognizing Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, among other cultural traditions, California Adventure celebrates the Lunar New Year with Mulan and delves deeper and deeper into Día de los Muertos through a bit of help from “Coco”. The park even offers a “Black Panther” inspired training session that takes Wakanda’s multiple African-inspired cultures seriously by creating a show rooted in philosophical lessons.

The most recent character added to the Disney California Adventure Festival of Holidays is Mirabel, seen here played by a Disney actor, in part to promote Disney’s upcoming film “Encanto”.

(Christian Thompson / Disneyland Resort)

This year, California Adventure has added elements from the upcoming animated film “Encanto” to its Festival of Holidays, in part to help market the film – there is a meeting required with Mirabel, the film’s main character – but also to bring Colombian music to its Paradise Gardens section of the park. With ¡Viva Navidad! and the Día de los Muertos celebrations already in this region, Paradise Gardens increasingly looks like an almost year-round celebration of Latin culture.

“It cracked the code on how we could be culturally authentic and unique at Disney,” says Festival of Holidays architect Susana Tubert of ¡Viva Navidad !, now 8 years old.

“I think it gave us all confidence, if you will, to say that we can do it, that we can have the Lunar New Year and the Plaza de la Familia celebrating ‘Coco’ and Día de los Muertos. The idea is to build a bridge where people can go through a cultural experience that is not their own and have an emotional response – if they don’t have an emotional response, it’s didactic – then go back. . The bridge rises and you return to your life, but you are forever changed because you have seen a piece of yourself in someone else’s story.

While the idea and success of ¡Viva Navidad! was that it may look a bit like a Mexican street parade, Tubert’s concept of dropping a “bridge” to reach out to non-Latin guests in the performing arts can be seen in his musical choices. Although it ends with the always festive “Feliz Navidad” by José Feliciano, the show begins with “Wonderful Christmastime” by Paul McCartney. Although this is a Mariachi-style rendition of the song, it begins the show with a Western influence before moving on to more traditional folk and dance.

Tubert says there are unique challenges and balances needed to put on a culture-driven show at a major tourist destination like a theme park.

“He was looking for a way to make sure the experience doesn’t feel -” Oh, it’s south of the border. It doesn’t affect me, ”Tubert said when asked about his choice to start with a McCartney song.

“I remember saying to the team at the start, ‘Think of it like a Normal Rockwell painting set in Latin America.’ It’s still a normal Rockwell painting. We don’t celebrate it any differently from North America. I grew up in Argentina and we had fans that were going to make fake snow and it was hot, but it was always the same party. It’s about bringing enough perspectives to everyone to make our guests feel welcome.

Disney's Viva Navidad!  The street parade is a boisterous celebration of Latin music and dance.

Disney’s Viva Navidad! The street parade is a boisterous celebration of Latin music and dance.

(Disneyland Resort)

While for many guests, the main draw of the Holiday Festival will undoubtedly be food and drink – an assortment of stalls around the park offer items designed to lightly blend cultural traditions – there’s no denying that the event brings a meaning to life. the park. There are crafts for the little ones – build a dreidel or experience the natural rhythms of Colombian music – and music that celebrates Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, the latter being a new addition thanks to a soul a cappella band.

While the emphasis on Latin America and ¡Viva Navidad! is undoubtedly a reflection of Disneyland’s clientele in Southern California, Tubert says the festival delivers lessons that continue to influence his approach to the parks.

“We mostly have kosher shows and we know all kinds of families join in this Hanukkah celebration,” Tubert says. “This is an important step for Disney. And Diwali, kids can get up and learn Bollywood and dance. On the surface, it’s a fun time. But on a deeper level, it’s a dialogue, a time to experience someone else’s culture.

And a lot of those moments are handled with confidence without any Disney characters.

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