A LOOK BACK: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros
I decided to watch Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros back to back since they were both related to each other. They were both package films Disney did to promote the "Good Neighbor" policy which was promoting a feeling of good will between the United States and Latin America. Back in the 1940s, Walt Disney and some of his artists boarded a plane to South and Central America, sketching and taking in local culture.
It was here that Mary Blair honed her trademark skill as a colorist and designer which you can see stamped all over these two films. It was also during these trips that Disney found refuge from the strike going on at his studio. So, while these might not be the most known films, they definitely play a part in Disney history.
The first film to come out was Saludos Amigos in 1942. It was divided into four segments that takes the viewers all over South America, from the Andes Mountains to the Argentine Plains. In the first entitled “Lake Titicaca,” in which Donald Duck meets the locals of Peru with no help from a stubborn llama. Next is “Pedro"about a young anthropomorphic airplane who's first mission is to deliver mail in the Andes. Next up is “El Gaucho Goofy,” which features Goofy as an Argentine gaucho. And, finally, we have “Aquarela do Brasil,” which introduces a new character in José Carioca, a Brazilian parrot that takes Donald around.
During the time, it was well perceived for doing the work it needed to do. Herald Tribune columnist Howard Barnes felt that Saludos Amigos "should do more to cement friendly relations between North and South America than a dozen treaties or a score of diplomatic missions." By today's standards, it might not be the most entertaining movie. But, it is fun and it's cool to see the introduction of José Carioca.
Where Disney's "Good Neighbor" films shine, though, is in the next film. 1944's The Three Caballeros had an irreverence that Saludos Amigos did not. One need not look further than the completely surreal animation of "The Three Caballeros" sequence itself. Disney brought back José Carioca and Donald Duck and introduced them to Panchito Pistoles, a loud talking, gun totin' Mexican rooster. You cannot blink during this sequence lest you miss something. They literally throw the kitchen sink at you and it is so fun.
The film is, like Saludos Amigos, divided into different segments, but they are given more of a narrative in this. In The Three Caballeros, we are celebrating Donald's birthday. His first gift is a film projector where he watches "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" about Pablo the Penguin who dreams of warmer climates. He also watches "The Flying Gauchito" about a young gaucho who finds a flying burro. And, he also watches some documentary on birds.
Next up, Donald opens his second gift which is a book from José Carioca. Through it, they travel to Baia in Brazil where they come across a Yaya, or cookie vendor, played by Aurora Miranda (sister of Carmen) who they ogle over. This sequence is full of the wonderful art and color styling by Mary Blair.
Next up is Donald's third gift through which Panchito Pistoles explodes onto the scene. As I mentioned, this sequence is dynamic, fast moving and wonderful. It is, perhaps, one of the best pieces of animation Disney has done and worth watching if you haven't already regardless of how you feel about the rest of the film.
Panchito takes Donald and José around his native Mexico. First, we're treated to a beautiful presentation of "Las Posadas" which is a tradition that follows the birth of Jesus. The sequence also is another amazing example of Mary Blair's work.
Then, Panchito takes Donald and José on a magical flying serape to Pátzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco where we see a sequence of native dances. The Mexico scenes are finished with the "You Belong To My Heart" sequence in which Donald falls in love with Dora Luz who sings the song.
The final sequence "Donald's Surreal Reverie" is just that - surreal. The film slows down and speeds up as Donald is drunk on love with a girl he follows through what can only be described as a Frida Kahlo painting gone wild. The only thing that bothers me is this over sexualization of Donald. I, somehow, expect it from Warner Brothers characters. But not from Disney characters.
In the end, Panchito and José interrupt and bullfight with Donald in a toy bull. José lights the bull's tail which is loaded with firecrackers causing it to explode. But, all's well that ends well with the Three Caballeros standing together.
The music to both films are absolutely wonderful providing a marvelous journey into the pop and traditional music of Latin America at the time. Songs like "Aquarela Do Brasil," "Tico Tico No Fuba" and "La Sandunga" were introduced to American audiences through these films.
I actually love both of the films, but I tend to get out The Three Caballeros more because some of the sequences are just amazing and head and shoulders over the segments from Saludos Amigos. Strap into your seats as you will be in for the most abstract ride of your lifetime.