RELEASE DATE: Thursday 21st December 1944
Disney's first foray into South America, Saludos Amigos, was successful at the box office. (To quote Walt's exact words, "it did a heck of a business") It also seemed to achieve its initial goal, which was to strengthen friendship between North and South America. Therefore, a second South American-themed picture was immediately put into production.
The Three Caballeros is at least a longer experience than Saludos Amigos, clocking in at a more respectable 72 minutes. Once again it is a "package" film, made up of many smaller films and somehow squished together into a semi-cohesive plot.
There have only been three instances of an official "sequel" in the main Disney canon: The Three Caballeros, The Rescuers Down Under and Fantasia 2000. (No, the direct-to-video abominations do NOT count!)
Opening it up, Donald finds a film projector and starts to watch his movie. First of all a narrator tells him about different South American birds, including the hilariously irritating Arucuan bird.
This eventually leads to the story of a little penguin called Pablo who thought his home was too cold, so he decided to move to somewhere warmer. (He'd get along well with Olaf I think!)
The next short movie is about a little boy who goes hunting eagles and instead finds a flying donkey!
The next present Donald opens (because it's dancing and emitting lights...) is a book about Brazil. When Donald opens it, he sees his old friend Jose Carioca inside! Jose asks Donald if he has ever been to Baia. (FYI, Baia is a state of Brazil) Jose shrinks Donald down to book-size and they leap into the book and catch a train to Baia.
When they arrive in Baia they begin an extended song-and-dance sequence featuring Aurora Miranda (sister to famous singer Carmen Miranda) which mixes live-action with animation. This was quite clever for its day, although the effect is quite dated now. There are two different ways that the artists accomplished this compositing. In some cases, the already-completed animation was simply screened behind the actors.
And in other cases, the animation was placed over the top of the filmed footage.
After this sequence, Donald is introduced to this movie's new character, a gun-toting Mexican rooster called Panchito.
They now make a trio: three happy chappies called "The Three Caballeros." Or... as they sing to us, they're "Three gay caballeros." Now, I know that the meaning of the word "gay" has changed since 1944. But... well... tell me you didn't think it...
The next sequence has Panchito explaining what a pinata is, and telling Donald about Christmas traditions in Mexico. This is told through storybook pictures.
Then, of course, Panchito takes both Donald and Jose to Mexico on a flying rug, in a sequence I think is probably called "Donald Duck is a creepy pervert."
After chasing down every female in Mexico, the movie starts getting weird. I mean, it was weird before, but the last 10-15 minutes of the movie are bat-nuts crazy. First we have a song called "You Belong To My Heart" sung by Dora Luz, who appears in the sky, and in flowers, and all around, while Donald desperately tries to win her affections.
Then things get REALLY weird. You thought Pink Elephants was out-there? This one makes Dumbo's sequence seem positively ordinary.
It's like Donald's freaky hallucinogenic dream where he's perving on a whole bunch of women. Then he has a sequence with a Mexican dancer where she brings the cacti alive to dance with them.
To finish off, Donald, Jose and Panchito have they very own bull fight before "The End" comes up on the screen and everybody wonders what the heck they just watched.
Another scene that is very striking is where Donald and Jose take the train to Baia. This pencil-style artwork inspired by Mary Blair, is unlike anything else in any other Disney movie, and it's abstract and fantastic!
Even though it lacks the rich look of earlier Disney movies, The Three Caballeros is certainly a nice looking piece, and the bright colours keep the audience interested.