Classic Caballeros Collection: Saludos Amigos/Three Caballeros Reviews
May 4, 2008
I haven't seen these since probably the '80s, back in those long, oft-lamented days when . . . well, you know the lament by now, and we don't need to go into all that again. As I got older, and as it got longer since I'd seen it, I rather started to assume that the Latin American birds were horrible, horrible stereotypes. I discover to my delight that they are not. At least, not any more than Donald is a horrible American stereotype. They are only [i]mild[/i] stereotypes of the kind necessary for a forty-minute film (really; [i]Saludos Amigos[/i] is forty and [i]The Three Caballeros[/i] is 69) to help us delve into the culture. We also, again, get Donald playing the Ugly American, making messes of shops all over Peru and chasing girls all over Mexico.
[i]Saludos Amigos[/i], the first one, is an introduction to South America, mostly focusing on Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. Our host, once we have a host, is Joe Carioca, a Brazilian parrot. He introduces Donald to the charms of the samba and the wonders of Rio. He is a segue away from the story as told about animators traveling through the wonders of South America. You must understand, incidentally, that last is a real trip. Walt really did fill a plane with animation staff and haul them on a fact-finding mission. Both films were an attempt to help us Get to Know Our Neighbours to the South. This is wartime propaganda (1942, here), when we had to Work Well with Our Allies. And we all know Europe, but South America was still, for the majority of Americans, mysterious and exotic.
Not so much Mexico, but in 1944, Disney gave us [i]The Three Caballeros[/i]. After a short or two and a quick trip with Joe Carioca to Baia, Brazil, we are introduced to Panchito, the Mexican rooster, who is actually a much greater stereotype than Joe. Then again, this is the film where Donald probably spends literally half of it chasing girls around one place or another. Dozens of them, at least on the beach of Veracruz or Acapulco. Still, our Mexican host is a bandam rooster with guns that he fires enthusiastically. Obviously, this is before Political Correctness. Still, we are told the charming tale of the [i]posada[/i], the procession of images of the Holy Family through the streets of small Mexican towns, ending with the Family (and the children carrying the statues, of course!) finding shelter and going in for a [i]fiesta[/i].
I don't think we really learn much of anything about Our Neighbours to the South. Oh, we learn a bit about the music and dance of these places, and we get to snicker at Goofy the Gaucho, but that's pretty much what we've got. I mean, seven or so minutes of [i]The Three Caballeros[/i]' running time is taken up with a cartoon about a thin-blooded penguin. It's cute, but it's not educational. I guess what we learn is that Our Neighbours to the South are people, too, and modern, fun-loving ones at that. We do see some of the great cities of the South--Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City.
We all know I have a fondness for the more obscure Disney movies--I am holding out great hope for a Special Edition of such classics as [i]Make Mine Music[/i] and [i]Melody Time[/i], which will probably also be on the same disc. Thus, you may think that I am once again overrating these. Certainly the [i]plot[/i] is not what gives these a seven, since they kind of don't have plots. But the art is fascinating, by Disney standards. There's a vibrancy in places that is unexpected to those unfamiliar with the colour sense of Mary Blair, one of the supervising animators. And there is a little geography, too, and I'm always a fan of the educational. Still, no, these are not great. They are, however, good, and I'm delighted that Disney seems to be hauling everything out of the vaults for our delectation. Maybe we'll even get [i]Song of the South[/i].