Reviewing the Catholic School Classic Film Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe

Braedon Troy, Staff Writer

Upon reading the headline to this article, a good portion of you readers have just had some core Catholic grade school memories unlocked. And others of you are absolutely boggled as to what I’m talking about. Nevertheless, this week I decided to finally rewatch a little film called Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe, and I figured I’d have the pleasure of taking you all on a little nostalgia trip for those of you who do remember this film. If you don’t? Well, buckle up, because this one is certainly something.

Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe, from what I can tell, is a direct-to-home-video film produced by Creative Communications Center. Dating back to the mid 1990’s, it’s a part of a series of a number of children’s stories of saints (like Saints Patrick and Bernadette) and heroes (like Ben-Hur and Odysseus). Admittedly, exact information about these videos and the company is sparse to find. You can find it on VHS and DVD, or if you can’t track the originals down, there are a number of uploads of the film on Youtube. 

It’s customary to put a spoiler warning on movie reviews like this, and I’m not going to truly be any exception. So if you’re anxiously avoiding spoilers to this film (although last time I checked, it didn’t have anything to do with the Marvel Cinematic Universe or Star Wars), stop reading here.

Our story begins with a pan over an animated 1531 Mexico. The painted backgrounds throughout the movie are genuinely solid quality, and the animation, while admittedly relatively clunky, isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen (many a cartoon in the 80’s and 90s had worse, looking at you Transformers). Pretty quickly the movie jumps into setting the stakes, especially with establishing the dynamic between the indigenous peoples of Mexico and the Spanish conquistadors.

CCC of America

Now admittedly, here is my first issue with the film. Yes, this is a kid’s movie, and it’s certainly not the place to discuss some of the deep impacts of colonization. But admittedly, the conflict is heavily generalized at the start to be little more than a rivalry. “Spaniards and Indians never learned to get along,” is probably the key quote from this – admittedly, I wouldn’t be too keen on getting along with colonizers who stole land and began making it their own. 

However, this dynamic improves a lot throughout the movie. Juan Diego, as someone both indigenous and Catholic, tells a group of children, and the audience, how he believed that the God of Catholicism and the supreme god of his indigenous cultures were the same, and how they prioritized natural beauty and creation. Juan Diego admits that there were immoral practices of his civilization, but there were some good, Christian things too. It’s genuinely deep insight for a kids’ movie, and it only gets deeper when he is both kicked out of his teaching position by a disagreeing Catholic priest and ostracized by a member of his own indigenous people for “selling out” to the Spaniards. 

Moments like these aside, the pacing is extremely quick, and the dialogue is relatively stunted. For the most part, every character is really just there to advance the plot, which admittedly, it’s only a 30 minute film with a lot of story to tell. There’s also some other weird aspects, which could be strange or charming depending on your outlook. The voice acting is good, although a little funny at times. The same goes for sound effects–one off-the-rack suspense sound effect in the movie has become common in memes, which got a decent laugh from me and others I watched with. But chief amongst this comedy is the tilma seller, who provides comic relief with a talking parrot by consistently trying to catch Juan Diego and sell him a new tilma, or a cloak primarily worn by area indigenous cultures. Then, at the climax of the film when Our Lady appears on Juan Diego’s tilma, the seller is right there to gift him a new one, as everyone gets a happy ending as the film ends.

Live Tilma Seller Reaction (CCC of America)

Then a song recapping the whole film plays, and it’s amazing. It’s the cheesiest, late 80’s-early 90’s-esque song ever. I highly recommend. 

Overall, Juan Diego: Messenger of Guadalupe is a genuinely pretty good film. I admittedly was watching this prepared for it to be not great, but it pleasantly surprised me, and of course, provided some nostalgia. It’s genuinely a good telling of the story for children of many ages, and it certainly made the story of the saint stick in my head perhaps better than any other. If I could give it a score, I’d give it a solid 7.4/10. It’s no VeggieTales, but it’s got charm and heart.