51 Days of Disney (Days 6 and 7): Saludos Amigos/The Three Caballeros

ALTERNATE TITLE: Donald Duck is super creepy when it comes to live action women.

If you noticed, I’m talking about two movies today, that’s because I actually missed a day between Snow White and Pinocchio. This seemed like the perfect time to catch up.

Version watched: 2008 DVD release

At this point in the 40’s (1942 to be exact), the Disney Studios were still in some serious economic problems, and one of the ways they got out of it was to seek government contracts. During World War II, the Disney Studios released numerous propaganda films under payment from the US government to help people rally against the Axis forces, films such as “Der Fuehrer’s Face” and “Donald Gets Drafted.”

The Department of State sent Walt and some of his animators down to various South American countries as ambassadors (the Disney shorts had always been very popular in that country) to try to keep some of the countries that may have sympathized with the Nazi cause from joining the Axis powers, and so they went. While down there, the Disney artists did hundreds of drawings and hours of video that eventually were used to create Saludos Amigos.

Saludos Amigos is the first of 6 “package” films (feature length films that have various short segments inside of them that are tied together usually by a theme) released by the Disney Studios in the 1940’s and the first of two centered around South America. The film has four segments: “Lake Titicaca”, “Pedro”, “El Gaucho Goofy”, and “Aquarela do Brasil”.

This film is an educational one, it’s purpose is to teach the people of America about their southern cousins and while it is very educational, it is not always the most entertaining of films. It can be quite dry in places, but the humour of the sections featuring Donald Duck and Goofy make the film a bit more interesting. El Gaucho Goofy is very similar in style to the Goofy “educational” films like “The Art of Skiiing”, “How to Play Baseball”, and the more recent “How to Hook up Your Home Theatre System”, but is not nearly as funny.

“Aquarela do Brasil” is easily the best segment of the the film. The song has a very fun samba sound to it and the idea of the segment being made while it is being shown makes for some very surprising and fun moments. It also introduced us to the character of Jose Carioca the parrot, who is exceptionally watchable, especially when paired with Donald Duck.

Overall, Saludos Amigos is a very mediocre film. It’s not really anything special when watching it nowadays, though it did do wonders with creating ties between North and South America. The film was not very critically successful, but it did make money for the studio, in fact, it was so popular that Disney went back to the State Department to get money for a sequel.

The Three Caballeros was not the first planned sequel to a Disney film. There had been plans for a sequel to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, but it obviously never panned out, and the Three Caballeros is actually one of the rare occasions where the sequel is better than the original film. It is funnier, more entertaining, and adds another very fun character, Panchito Pistoles, the Mexican rooster. Part of the reason that Caballeros is more successful is the fact that it is significantly less propagandistic than Amigos. It just feels much more genuine with what it is trying to say and feels much more like a Disney film. Also, the theme song for the Three Caballeros is fantastic. I love, love, love it.

The first time I saw these films in early 2010 and after watching both of them, my first reaction was “What the heck did I just watch?” Both of the films have their very surreal moments (Three Caballeros has many more than Saludos Amigos. Seriously, the scene with Donald and Jose hitting on the live action woman is just plain weird and a little creepy and the picture quality on the animation looks significantly worse than the rest of the film) and neither of them were quite what I was expecting. I had seen two of the other Disney package films prior to seeing these two, but they are significantly different from package films like Fun and Fancy Free and The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.

One very interesting aspect about the legacy of the Three Caballeros is that the drawings done by legendary Disney artist Mary Blair for the “Las Posadas” segment actually inspired the creation of the it’s a small world attraction in the 1960’s, and as some of you more awesome readers may already know, Mary Blair is the person who designed practically everything in that attraction as well as the Grand Canyon mural at the Contemporary resort at Walt Disney World (Mary Blair is one of my favourite artists, so I love getting to talk about her whenever possible).

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