Saturday, April 12, 2014


RELEASE DATE: Monday 24th August 1942

One of Disney's strangest animated features, Saludos Amigos was released in Rio de Janeiro only a couple of weeks after Bambi got its initial theatrical release, although it was held off until 1943 for its American season. There were a number of issues that led to the creation of this movie. In the early 1940s the infamous animators' strike caused a big rift in Walt's otherwise happy studio. Suddenly Walt's number of studio employees was almost halved. (Read more about that here) Another fairly major reason for Saludos Amigos's creation was that Walt had been commissioned by the U.S. government to create it! Since some Latin American countries had ties with Nazi Germany, the American Government sent Walt and his animators on a trip to South America, with the intention of creating new Latin-flavoured cartoons to foster friendship between the two continents. The idea was to show South America in an attractive, modern and fashionable light. Here's Walt himself talking about how it all came to be...

It is the shortest "full-length" film in the entire Disney canon, lasting a mere 42 minutes, and it has been largely forgotten in the years since its initial run. While it did receive a DVD release, it is one of the few Disney films that is yet to make the jump to Blu-ray.

After the first five classic films, Saludos Amigos marks the beginning of a new era for Disney animation. From now until 1950, every Disney movie would be a "package movie," made up of smaller pieces, as opposed to one whole story. It wasn't until Cinderella that the studio would really find its way again.

There is no other Disney film quite like Saludos Amigos. It's actually part documentary, part animated shorts. There is no overarching story keeping the movie together, except for the fact that the Disney animators were visiting South America. It's really quite bizarre to be watching Disney's latest movie, which is showing you how they went about making Disney's latest movie. It's like Disney Inception!

In between the shots of the animators enjoying South America though, are four short cartoons. The first is called Lake Titicaca. It begins with lots of live action footage of the real location, and then introduces Donald Duck as the tourist experiencing this exciting new culture for the first time.

The second part is a stand-alone story about a little plane called Pedro, who has the difficult task of delivering the mail after his parents both become sick.

Part three introduces the concept of the Argentinian "gaucho" cowboy, and places Goofy in the shoes of one.

The final piece once again stars Donald (who was, after all, the most popular character at the time) and focuses on the exciting bustling city of Brazil. This is quite an abstract piece, with a paintbrush constantly bringing Brazil to life. Donald is also given a new pal in this piece, a parrot named José Carioca, who essentially acts as a South American tourguide. He would later return in The Three Caballeros.

IRVYNE: It's a bit tricky to comment on the story and characters in Saludos Amigos, because there isn't really any story, the new characters are fairly forgettable and the returning characters aren't as funny as they had been in the past. The best way to describe this film is an introductory documentary on South America with some animation thrown in. The part that seems to fit the LEAST is "Pedro," since it's the only part of the film that isn't in the travel-doco style. It's actually quite a cute little short, but it still feels a little out-of-place with the rest of the film.
Saludos Amigos was created in a single year, and it shows. You won't find any of Bambi's rich backgrounds here. Nor will you see any of the incredible high-tech special effects created for Fantasia. All of the animation is a la basic, more in line with the animated shorts of the time. Artist Mary Blair was taken along on the South American trip, and some of her paintings and inspiration are nice and interesting to see, especially in the "Lake Titicaca" segment.
It's difficult to praise the visual style of an animated feature though, when entire chunks of it are essentially just live-action home movies taken on a very old camera.
Having said that, I do feel that the "Brazil" segment pushes the animation artform in an interesting new direction. The concept of paint-and-paintbrush is an inspired one, which allows for a few clever and creative visual tricks. I'm not sure if this was the first time a brush or pencil had been shown in the process of drawing or painting, but it's very effective here.
There are only two songs in Saludos Amigos. The first is the title song at the movie's beginning, and the other is the "Aquarela do Brazil" tune that accompanies the fourth short cartoon. This song was not even written for the film; it was initially released in 1939. José Carioca's catchy samba music is great and definitely makes you want to move. But overall, this is not a film that will be remembered for its music.
There's no denying that Saludos Amigos doesn't really hold up that well in 2014. It's fascinating to watch from a historical perspective, knowing exactly why it was being made. There are a few decent laughs in there, but it just really doesn't grab the imagination like the best Disney movies do. I suppose the only saving grace is that it's really short. Even though it's considered one of Disney's official "full-length" movies, it is less than half the length of some of the others.
PASCAL: That was a really long 42 minutes!
MALEFICENT: It was good. It was informative and clever. It's fascinating to see what the artists' impressions were of these countries in the '40s.
SHENZI: I thought it was odd. My favourite part was the water-colour painting at the end. That was really cool.
MALEFICENT: It reminded me a little bit of Fantasia.
IRVYNE: And that samba music is just so cool! 
SHENZI: We did all give a good laugh at the "Frozen" reference. "No Pedro, let it go!" And suddenly we're all singing.
MERRYWEATHER: Pedro was very cute, on his mail run. If he had a sister, she'd be able to do the female run! I thought he looked like the Aeroplane Jelly mascot as well! Anyway, you get value for money with this movie. It's really four movies in one!
IRVYNE: At 42 minutes long, I don't know that "value-for-money" is what this film is really about! It's like a travel journal. With cartoons. It seems strange watching the footage of the animators alongside the animation that they created. It's all very meta.
WENDY: They probably didn't have enough content and had to pad out the time somehow.
IRVYNE: Isn't it funny that this was released mere weeks after Bambi? I don't think you could get two more opposite films!

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