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Saludos Amigos &
The Three Caballeros

2-Movie Collection

Saludos Amigos / The Three Caballeros 2-Movie Collection
Disney DVD
1943 & 1944 / Color / 1:33 flat full frame / 40 and 69 min. / Street Date April 29, 2008 / 19.99
Starring Goofy, Donald Duck, José Carioca, Panchito; Aurora Miranda, Carmen Molina, Dora Luz, Sterling Holloway (narrator) José Oliveira.
Associate Foreign supervisors Edmundo Santos, Alberto Soria, Gilberto Souto
Original Music Ed Plumb, Paul Smith
Written by Homer Brightman, Ralph Wright, Roy Williams, Harry Reeves, Dick Huemer, Roy Grant, Ernest Terrazas, Ted Sears, Bill Peet, Elmer Plummer, William Cottrell, James Bodrero
Produced by Walt Disney
Sequence Directors Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts; Norman Ferguson, Clyde Geronimi, Harold Young (live action)

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Disney has packaged its two colorful 1940s Latin American animated musicals in a Saludos Amigos / The Three Caballeros 2-Movie Collection. Previously released separately in 'Gold Classic' editions, the films complement each other and are accompanied by a couple of extras as well as two separate cartoons.

At the beginning of World War 2, Walt Disney's animation studio was not in the finest shape, financially. After the glorious beginning of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, expensive masterpieces like Pinocchio and Fantasia didn't immediately recoup their costs, leaving it to the little-elephant-that-could Dumbo to keep Disney afloat. Disney made a major commitment to the war effort, marshalling its proven expertise combining entertainment with mass communication. The disc set Walt Disney Treasures: On the Front Lines The War Years offers a wonderful selection of informational films and patriotic propaganda to oppose fascism.

Almost as soon as the war began, the Hollywood was asked to use its movie glamour to help cement good relations with the neutral countries of South America. Translated, that means that Uncle Sam suddenly saw the need for an aggressive 'Good Neighbor Policy' to elbow the Axis out of resource-rich South America. Latin music and filmic vacations to Rio suddenly became more prevalent in movies; Carmen Miranda was guaranteed star billing for the duration. RKO sent Orson Welles to Brazil, killing two birds with one plane ticket. While Welles promoted American goodwill while filming a 'good neighbor' musical documentary, RKO took advantage of his absence to disembowel The Magnificent Ambersons. In addition to its other government work, Disney went to South America to develop animated movies as a joint venture with Latin American artists and musicians.

The first effort Saludos Amigos (Greetings Friends) is an entertaining jaunt that combines several cartoons with a musical episode. Holding the segments together are amusing animated maps of South America and footage showing a lively group of Disney writers and artists boarding planes in August 1941 and 'flying down to Rio'. Walt is seen making decisions in the expedition's crowded hotel headquarters. Brazilian and Argentine artists show work that inspired the film's visual style.

The movie has a stitched-together look. Donald Duck and Goofy appear in cartoons that use the exotic locale as a background for familiar comedy. Donald has problems traversing the Andes on a fickle llama, and Goofy risks his neck as a neophyte gaucho, dealing with an uncooperative horse and some very dangerous bolas. Another cartoon is about Pedro, a young airplane that flies the mail over the mountains when his father cannot. Disney repeated the formula in its later "Little Toot"; the cartoon may also have inspired later Tex Avery short subjects with anthropomorphic taxis and jet planes.

What keeps Saludos Amigos from feeling like a pastiche is its final episode, which celebrates the 1939 Brazilian song Aquarela do Brasil, known here as just Brazil. It's featured in the movie of the same name and is perhaps best visualized in the opening of Busby Berkeley's The Gang's All Here. Disney's stroke of luck on a visit to Belém do Pará was hearing the song and making contact with its composer, Ary Barroso. He brought it back to the states, to be sung in the film by Aloysio de Oliveira. Eddie Duchin heard it too, and his first American recording was immediately followed by hits by Xavier Cugat and Dinah Shore. Aquarela do Brasil means 'watercolor of Brazil', which cued Disney's dreamy animated vision of South American jungle flowers and birds. The sequence introduces José Carioca, an outgoing Brazilian parrot voiced by José Oliveira. The parrot sells Donald on the beauty of the song and demonstrates a new dance craze -- The Samba. Saludos Amigos made Latin-American music history.

Saludos Amigos still has censorship issues. 'Gaucho Goofy' is missing a bit where he rolls a cigarette. He's sitting on a horse in Texas, and then is suddenly flying through the air to Argentina. It's possible that other cuts were made as well. José Carioca is seen smoking a cigar in just one or two shots, and Savant has no older version of Saludos for comparison. But Carioca smokes throughout this disc's encoding of the later The Three Caballeros, so what's going on? Both films are now considered children's fare, but they definitely weren't when they were new.

The disc contains a 'Backstage Disney' episode about the making of the films, and Walt Disney also appears in a CBC interview excerpt. He mentions Saludos Amigos and then refers to its much more elaborate follow-up The Three Caballeros, saying, "I wish the government gave us financial help on that one!"

1944's The Three Caballeros is a much richer experience than Saludos Amigos. The cartoon episodes "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" and "The Flying Gauchito" are relatively unremarkable but the rest of the show is a creative free-for-all. Donald opens a gift from South America, unleashing an almost surreal barrage of color and quick-change imagery. He gets together with 'his old pal' José Carioca and meets the two-gun Mexican rooster Panchito, who uses his pistols like rocket boosters. For a running gag, a crazy 'Aracuan Bird' breaks in periodically with a weird vocal riff. New locations appear from animated pop-up books, and the three pals take flight on a Flying Serape.

The seventy-minute movie is an exhausting rush of color and Latin music, combining animation with a great deal of live-action filming. It should have won an Oscar for special effects. Like a wolf from a Tex Avery cartoon, Donald Duck chases Mexican and Brazilian girls, a somewhat regrettable theme.  1 The musical numbers would delight Luis Buñuel. For the Mexican Jesusita, beautiful Carmen Molina taps and struts in full Ranchero regalia, while animated cactus plants dance around her and the desert sunset turns into an hallucinatory light show.

The film has more exciting songs: Os Quindius De Yayá, The Three Caballeros and Lilongo. A respite from the synaptic over-stimulation comes with a return to more watercolor exoticism. The song this time is a second Barroso composition Na Baixa do Sapateiro or just plain Bahia. It shares a slower, more sensual rhythm with a later ballad, You Belong to My Heart. A cameo of the singer Dora Luz floats in a moving, animated frame while a lovestruck Donald looks on. What with the constant action, crazy humor and beautiful music, The Three Caballeros is a real workout and one of Disney animation's more interesting achievements.

Disney's Saludos Amigos / The Three Caballeros 2-Movie Collection presents both features on one disc. Colors are excellent and the heightened detail shows many original animation flaws (mostly dust), suggesting that computer repainting was kept to a minimum -- except where censorship was involved. The brief features leave space for the docus mentioned above plus two bonus cartoons, Don Donald and Contrary Condor. Animation fans have complained that these kiddie-oriented releases don't included the many bonus features found on fancy laserdisc releases from 1995. Full-on uncensored special editions would seem a likely candidate for "Disney Treasures" treatment.

Disney now touts its "Fast-Play option" as a helpful feature, and even lists it on the spine. It's still a rather annoying example of marketing doubletalk. If one is fast on the remote trigger it's possible to skip Fast-Play and menu select straight to the disc content. Otherwise, Fast-Play takes one through a commercial detour of promos and trailers.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Saludos Amigos / The Three Caballeros 2-Movie Collection rates:
Movies: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Backstage Disney: South of the Border, Walt Disney interview, cartoons Don Donald and Contrary Condor.
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 22, 2008


1. Wartime movies and songs set in Latin America tended to stress the, um, ready availability of compliant, lovely South American women, with the result that all females south of the Rio Grande were considered potential whores, as noted in the Rum and Coca Cola song lyric, ' Workin' for the Yankee Dollar'. Donald in The Three Caballeros is a fairly harmless example, but the idea becomes really offensive in shows like the Ann Sothern musical Panama Hattie, where the 'local' señoritas are sheep-like sex babes for whatever American serviceman passes by.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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