4 Unholy Things From The Children's Cartoon About Trying To Murder Baby Jesus
Most people realize eventually that their favorite animation movies as kids are based on historic fairy tales -- like Cinderella or every part of the new Mulan that isn't a 30-minute battle scene. But this Disneyfication tends to change a lot about the authentic story. Cinderella would have been less of a bippity boppity blast if it had left in the real ending where Prince Charming punishes the wicked stepsisters by making them dance in (historically accurate) red-hot iron shoes until they died?
The issue becomes even hairier than a hair shirt when adapting religious stories, where leaving out the R (for Retribution) rated bits could count as blasphemy. But this wasn't an issue for the Italian-Catholic animated film Opopomoz, which had picked one of the funniest, most popular kids' stories in Italy, the story of a boy who is taught that Christmas is a time of sharing. A time of caring. But most importantly, a time to make a pact with the Devil to murder your enemies. Because ...
Opopomoz Is Based On An Intense Moral Tale From The Renaissance
In 2003, after the success of his award-winning film Lucky and Zorba, a whimsical tale of a cat trying to teach a baby seagull how to fly, animation director Enzo D'Alo was on the brink of breakout success. For his bid to become the Italian Hayao Miyazaki, D'Alo made Opopomoz, a popular Italian Christmas story that had a 10 million Euro budget, such gorgeous art it took two years to animate and a star-studded voice cast -- John Turturro's in it!
But instead of wowing the world, Opopomoz was a flop. Why? Because there's something about D'Alo movies that turns out to be deeply problematic. No, no, no, I don't mean his voice casting of John Turturro as a bald black man. This is not a weirdly backdated cancellation of an Italian animator over representation in animation. D'Alo movies don't have a problem with institutionalized prejudices like racism or homophobia.
Well, maybe ...
… Okay, fine, D'Alo movies have two problematic things about it -- and the other one is tone. While his art style is very influenced by Ghibli, his storytelling is very much influenced by the Grimms. Or whoever beat the Grimm Brothers as children. And that side is made horrifyingly obvious in Opopomoz, which might be adapted from a cute childrens' bedtime book of the same name, but that book is based on a really weird Renaissance morality play called The Shepherds' Song. Which is about Josef and Mary traveling to Bethlehem while shepherds help them evade Satan from killing the unborn baby Jesus.
But just like D'Alo three hundred years later, Cantata dei Pastori's author, Andrea Perrucci, suffered from a tonal issue: For a religious playwright, he was hilarious. Later credited with kicking off the comic opera, the legendary Neapolitan playwright's whimsical play of the immaculate conception was a big hit with commoners who, being more used to vulgar theater, particularly loved the little sly comedy bits. So over time, actors started playing the biblical parts for laughs, and adaptations kept adding in more funny commedia dell'arte stock characters -- the Renaissance theater equivalent of a Seth Rogen cameo.
By the 1800s, Cantata dei Pastori had become such a broad comedy the Church cut ties with the play. And it's this lighthearted, funny version that was eventually turned into a bunch of plays, books, TV shows, and, finally, children's animated movie Opopomoz. Of course, there was one thing that the comedy rewrites didn't change about Cantata dei Pastori …
It's A Story About Trying To Give The Virgin Mary A Miscarriage
Instead of following Joseph and Mary's dusty trek to Bethlehem, Opopomoz sets the biblical allegory in modern-day Naples during the holiday season. This is where we meet our story's hero, a five-year-old kid named Rocco, who's upset that his mother's about to give birth to a baby brother on Christmas Eve. This confirms to Rocco that his bro is already hell-bent on ruining his life, and something must be done. As such, Rocco starts acting out in the ways you'd expect of a first child: he pouts, he throws fits when he doesn't get enough attention, and he makes a murder pact with a demon-like it's the Disney adaptation of Strangers on a Train.
Like all animated kids' movies, Opopomoz eventually takes a break from the main cast to check up on the Christmas plans of Satan, Father of Lies, and Ruler of Demons. As it turns out, The Devil doesn't want a lot for Christmas; there is just one thing they need: someone to travel back in time and murder Jesus Christ before he's born to undo all of Christianity.
To achieve this, Lucifer got his hoofs on a magic word, opopomoz. Technically, it’s o.p.o.p.o.m.o.z., since the spell’s an labored acronym short for onnipossente potere occulto prestigioso oscuro Mefistofelico orsu zumpagiu. Roughly translated, that means "hellish almighty control, kabbalistic notoriety, evil-eyed Yegon, energetic drivel."
So what does this unholy magic for the modern warlock on the go actually do? It abuses a glitch in God's matrix that allows the caster to magically transform any nativity scene (you know, either those mannequin mangers in front of churches or the travel edition ones under your grandparents' tree) into a quantum-divine time portal that sends the caster to the real scene of the birth of Christ.
To complete this, the most difficult plan in the history of the universe, Satan sends his three most cowardly comic relief demons to the city of Naples, which he refers to as "the crib's capital." The Devil is right (as always), but non-Catholic pagans may need more backstory: Despite many schisms throughout its history, two dissenting factions remain in an eternal struggle inside the Catholic Church: those who worship The Lord Jesus H. Christ and those who worship The Little Baby Jesus. Naples firmly falls in the latter category. Every Christmastime, the city goes nativity-native, hosting manger parades, manger floats, making celebrity puppets to put in the mangers, … And at home, every Napolitan family's greatest Christmas pride comes from the grandiose nativity scene under the family tree.
With omnipresent access to 1 Hour B.C. in the bag, the three demons quickly sniff out Rocco and trick him into doing the dirty work. They inform the kid that preventing Jesus from being born will instantly solve his little baby brother bother. How? By making him disappear, as the unbirth of Christ would unleash a divine backlash causing every single pregnant person in Rocco's time to miscarry as well.
Oh yeah, I probably should have mentioned ...
The Movie's Child Hero Is A Glass-Eyed Sociopath
What, did I forget to mention that our child hero is a straight-up psycho? While the movie does his best to make Rocco as likable as possible, there's just no escaping that Opopomoz is a story about a kid who is more than ready willing to trigger the greatest genocide in human history just so he doesn't have to share his toys.
For morose maths fans: At any given point in our modern world, roughly 2.5% of the world population is some level of pregnant. That's half a percent more than the mass disappearance that kicks off the off-kilter apocalypse in The Leftovers. And this cataclysmic event is in the hands of a toddler sociopath, one who doesn't seem to mind traumatizing billions of parents (including his own), terminating dozens of millions of pregnancies, and outright killing millions of late-trimester babies as long as he gets his way.
Now, some of you may have jumped the gun and wondered: But how is a five-year-old supposed to cause a miscarriage in an unsuspecting adult woman? It's a bit late to creep into their stable lodgings and drop a Morning After pill in Mary's complimentary orange juice. Fortunately, action is not an issue for Rocco. He decides to do it the old-fashioned way. The Clark Gable way. The 'push Mary into a ravine and hope the fall will kill both the young mother and unborn godchild' way. Jesus F. Christ, Opopomoz, that's messed up for a kids movie. What was plan B, having the demons give your Huggies-aged hero a set of brass knuckles and tell him to aim for the belly? Or, more on-brand for Christianity, make this kindergartener perform a back alley abortion with the wire hanger that came with his new puffy winter coat?
The Filmmaker's Other Kids Animations Are Also Terrifying
Of course, since this is somehow a G-rated film, Rocco changes his mind at the last moment and decides to not Looney Tunes the Queen of Heaven off a rocky cliff after a polite talking-to from an angel. But at that point, the miscarriage-centric story has already done its damage. Opopomoz was released in Italy and France to mediocre reviews and barely made any money. And to the surprise of the filmmakers, no foreign market wanted to buy their beautifully animated Baby Jesus Murder Plot movie for toddlers.
This is, of course, no criticism of director D'Alia, a very artistic animator who has plenty of other animation gems with completely different themes that are definitely more watchable and not also traumatizing in their own terrifyingly niche way. Just take the aforementioned Lucky and Zorba. The film was a big hit in Italy and the European awards circuit praised for its emotional depth and sense of hope -- and its terrific soundtrack! Just listen to this fan favorite, a sweet song about a mother's love for her child:
-- nope, hang on, I'm being informed that that song's actually about Zorba's mother saying farewell to her unborn egg-child because she and all the other seagulls are slowly dying from a toxic oil spill. But that's only until the part in the song where she begs the cat to swear an oath not to murder her child, an oath she knows means nothing the moment she's dead.
Oh boy. Maybe Lucky and Zorba is basically Bambi but aimed at audiences who didn't think the hunter scene was heartbreaking enough, but D'Alia has plenty of other movies to pick from. What about Momo -- it's D'Alia at his Ghibliest, so it must hit the perfect balance between folkloric and whimsical, right? Momo is the magical story (okay) of a super sweet girl (looking good) who befriends a magic turtle (great) and must save her small town (classic) from being slowly murdered by a doomsday cult of terrifying time-vampires.
There it is. Incidentally, Momo achieves this by starving them all to death even though she also has the power to save their souls and turn them into regular (if depressed) people.
Oh, and the entire five-year-old-and-up flick is a thinly veiled criticism of late-stage capitalism and the need to unionize? Perfect Sunday afternoon watching with the family.
Then again, all those movies were all made before the obstetric Freudian nightmare of Opopomoz. Maybe D'Alia learned his lesson after that flop and started choosing nice tales to animate. And it turns out he did! After Opopomoz he only made one more classically animated movie after, a straight adaptation of Pinocchi-- oh, no.
Oh, sweet God, no.
It’s like ‘rella all over again.
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Top Image: Mikado Film