Tuesday, April 15, 2014


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!)

Instead of the "travel journal" concept we had in Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros starts straight away with Donald Duck. It's his birthday, and he's received a huge box of presents from his friends in South America.

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.

IRVYNE: What the heck do you make of The Three Caballeros? It's one of the strangest, oddest things the Walt Disney company ever produced. It seems to me that it has a real lack of direction as a whole. It's like Walt just had 10 different teams working completely independently of each other, achieving completely different things, and then just smooshed them all together. The Pablo and flying donkey shorts are cute, but they really don't fit with the rest of the film at all, in a similar way to how the "Pedro The Aeroplane" movie stood out in Saludos Amigos. What story there is in The Three Caballeros is very, VERY thin. It's just a bunch of experimental shorts strung together with the theme of South America.
The Three Caballeros makes fantastic use of very bright, very saturated colours throughout. The animation is as good as we have come to expect from Disney in this era. What sets this movie apart from the others around this time is its integration of live action with the animation. Even though it doesn't look state-of-the-art today, it's still convincing enough to give the illusion that the animated characters are really there with the actors. (I especially like Donald being tossed into the air on a rug by the beach girls)

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.

There is music all throughout The Three Caballeros, and while it all works well for the movie, it's not a soundtrack that people will be listening to on repeat. Almost all of the songs are either traditional South American songs (particularly Mexican) or else they have been inspired by traditional songs and given new English lyrics.

There are some really interesting aspects to The Three Caballeros, but it can't be denied that as a film, it really doesn't stand up against its other Disney brothers and sisters. There is only a sliver of a story to hold it together, it is full of song-and-dance sequences that well and truly outstay their welcome, and even though I've watched it a number of times now, it still leaves me absolutely befuddled, in a "what were they thinking??" kind of way.

SHENZI: It makes no sense!

WENDY: What did it start with? The study of birds. And "Burrito." I liked the flying donkey.

IRVYNE: Yeah, it starts with a kind of a story. But by the end it's nothing but random dance sequences and unintelligible acid trips.

MERRYWEATHER: Everything made sense until they got to Mexico. Too many Tequilas I think!

SHENZI: The Mexicans are loco! "Pretty girls, pretty girls, pretty girls..."

WENDY: Oh, that part was incredible. So wrong!

SHENZI: So strange!

IRVYNE: Yes, we need to talk about this. What the absolute heck was up with all of the creepy pervy aspects of this movie? Okay, so Donald likes to look at girls in bikinis, even though he's a gay caballero. But the amount of time in this movie that is dedicated to objectifying women...

WENDY: It's terrible. It was made in a different time, but even still, it's very sexist... There are a lot of Fantasia kind of elements in there that I like though. Colours and shapes moving around to work with the music. And Donald even became the sound track at one point!

MERRYWEATHER: I liked how they made the cartoons dance along with the real people.

IRVYNE: That was pretty high-tech for its day. This was what, 20 years before Mary Poppins?

SHENZI: My impressions of this movie: "Meh."

IRVYNE: I'd say Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros are definitely in the bottom end of most peoples' "favourite Disney movies" list. They're not that great. But they are interesting to watch. It's funny that Saludos Amigos is so short, but The Three Caballeros feels so loooong. Even though it's not. What did you think, Maleficent...?

MALEFICENT: *snooooooore*

1 comment:

  1. This film and "Saludos Amigos" were made to improve relations between the US and South America during WWII. And because so many Disney animators were drafted, Disney's movies took a big hit, resulting in a bunch of "movies" that were just shorts slapped together. I agree with you that this movie does not hold up as well as most of Disney's.

    That said, I just saw the movie for the first time today, and am now a Jose Carioca fan, and quite fond of Panchito Pistoles as well. (Not too crazy about Donald.)