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During the early years of World War II, the State Department asked several filmmakers to create movie projects in Latin America. The government agents thought that this celluloid outreach would remind certain countries that we were their friends and not Hitler. The two major players in this program were Orson Welles and Walt Disney. Welles went South for a documentary. But his time in Rio led to the destruction of his career as a Hollywood director. The final reel of his Magnificent Ambersons was trashed and re-shot while he was out of the country. He didn’t even finish his goodwill documentary as rumors swirled about his hard partying ways. He spent the rest of his life fighting for respect and budgets. Walt Disney’s time below the equator wasn’t fatal. He wound up with two animated feature films that traversed the entire Western Hemisphere.
Saludos Amigos (1942 – 42 minutes) is four cartoons framed together by live action footage of Walt and his animators journeying through South America. The travelogue sets up the painted stories. “Lake Titicaca” has Donald Duck being a pesky tourist around the elevated water. He gets into plenty of trouble with llamas and locals. “Pedro” brings a tiny aiplane to life. He must fly the treacherous the Chilean Andes mountains to deliver the mail. It’s an action filled adventure as he battles a nasty storm. “El Gaucho Goofy” introduces us to the cowboys that roam the Argentine Pampas. This version has digitally removed the cigarette that Goofy rolls when he’s an American cowboy. For people who complain about censorship in cartoons, you’ll be angry. But it’s hard to object to this vanishing act. Goofy makes it look so cool to roll your own cigarette. Do we really this romantic image of smoking being presented to kids? However the folks at Disney didn’t remove Jose Carioca’s cigar in “Aquarela do Brasil.” The short opens with the rain forest flowing off a paint brush to the song “Brazil.” It’s a lush rendition of the wild life that results in Donald coming out of the Amazon and meeting the puffing parrot. Carioca introduces Donald Duck to the samba music of Brazil. He shakes his tail feathers to the irresistible beat. Thankfully the waterfowl is not seduced to any of Rio’s legendary transvestite hookers.
The Three Cabelleros (1944 – 71 minutes) is a second visit to South America. This longer feature focuses on Donald Duck getting a mystery package from his amigos. The surprises inside various boxes frame the action. The first present contains a film with three shorts that Donald watches on his projector. “The Cold-Blooded Penguin” isn’t a grizzly tale of a homicidal nun. A penguin hates the cold and plots to move closer to the equator. Plenty of cute action involving heat and ice. The second short is a comic guide to the birds of the Amazon rain forest. “The Flying Gauchito” is a burro with wings. A little boy enters this mix breed in a race to win the fat pesos. Donald opens another box and discovers Jose Carioca. Isn’t Homeland Security supposed to stop live creatures sneaking into the country in boxes? Carioca takes Donald on a musical adventure through pop up books.There’s spectacular mixing of live action performers with the Anthropomorphic birds. During their visit to Baia, two live action dancers transform into an animated cockfight. Who knew Disney promoted America’s favorite outlaw sport? At the end of the film, Donald and Jose unite with Panchito, a Mexican rooster with a big sombrero. The trio break into “Three Cabelleros.”
While this isn’t a major Disney animated classic, Three Cabelleros is significant for allowing artist Mary Blair to shine. She is best known as the creator of the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. Her art comes alive in this movie on several occasions. The train in the storybook scene during “Off to Baia” brings motion to her illustrated style. “Las Posadas” captures Mexican children at Christmas with a series of slightly animated drawings. This is Blair’s work in its pure form. The round faced Mexican youths would become the template for the kinetic kids on E ticket attraction.
Walt Disney and his crew brought the colors, characters and stories of Latin America to the screen in these films. They didn’t merely fake the region based on what they experienced from a Mexican restaurant’s menu. Saludos Amigos and Three Cabelleros are spicy enough to keep a smile on your face. They take us back to a time when Donald Duck could unite a Hemisphere in a bird brotherhood.
The feature films and the bonus shorts are 1.37 full frame. The colors dazzle even though they haven’t undergone the Platinum Collection restoration process. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The mix levels won’t have you reaching to pump up the loudness. There’s French and Spanish dub tracks. The subtitles are in English, French and Spanish.
South of the Border with Disney (33:18) is a documentary about Walt and his creative team’s trip to Latin America. It’s nice to know that they cared enough to visit the countries instead of merely tracing the work of others.
Walt Disney CBC Interview (1:46) has him explain how the project developed.
Don Donald (8:03) has Donald in the big sombrero as he romances a Latin Daisy Duck. Donald learns why a burro is more reliable than a car.
Contrary Condor (8:04) gives us Donald Duck as an egg collector. He climbs the Andes with plungers on his feet. The condor eggs turn out to be bigger than his duck body.
Disney originally released Saludos Amigos and Three Cabelleros as separate DVDs. It was hard to justify buying them because of their brief running times. By combining these South of the Border features, though, you get an irresistible night of sambas and gauchos on Classic Caballeros.
Disney Home Video presents Classic Caballeros Collection. Starring Donald Duck, Goofy and Joe Carioca. Two films on one DVD. G Rated Released on DVD: April 29, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.