'Saludos Amigos / Three Caballeros'
(DVD / G / (1945) 2008 / Disney DVD)
Overview: Embark on thrilling adventures to South America and Mexico in two full-length movies SALUDOS AMIGOS and its sequel THE THREE CABALLEROS -- together for the first time in one DVD collection! Join Goofy Donald Duck and Walt Disney himself as they experience all the music beauty and excitement Latin America has to offer.
DVD Verdict: OK, taking them one at a time, "Saludos Amigos" is a 42-minute travelogue from 1942. Produced with limited wartime resources, it uses live-action scenes of South America to link together four cartoons that take place on that continent. The live-action segments show Walt Disney and a team of Disney artists as they travel to the continent and then gather information and sketch cartoon ideas. Poorly composed, badly faded and politically out of date, the footage has the look of an old home movie, as well as an obviously overdubbed soundtrack. My husband, however, geezer-in-training that he is, likes these scenes for their historical value, as they are filled with propeller-driven airliners, 1930s automobiles and lots of women in big, flowing dresses.
As for the cartoons, my whole family agrees that they are some of Disney's best. "Lake Titicaca" stars Donald Duck as a tourist, getting into trouble as he attempts to sail a boat, take photos, communicate with the locals and ride a llama across a suspension bridge. "Pedro" tells the story of a cute "little boy plane" who dreams of carrying the mail between Chile and Argentina. A compelling story full of fun and drama, it holds up amazingly well, and looks like it could have been drawn yesterday. The hilarious "El Gaucho Goofy," is in the same vein as the 1950s Goofy "How-To" cartoons. As the narrator blindly describes how Goofy "deftly tosses" a lasso around a horse, "quickly converts" his saddle into a bed and "gracefully" dines on barbecue, the dippy dog botches every step!
Finally, much like a tropical version of "Fantasia," the terrific "Aquarela do Brasil" ("Watercolor of Brazil") starts off as a painting of a vibrant rainforest that comes to life to music, in this case a great version of the samba standard "Tico Tico No Fubá." Soon Donald appears, meets Brazilian playboy parrot José Carioca (a Disney version of a Brazilian folk character), and the duo shake their bonbons off into the nightlife of Rio. Much of Jose's dialogue is in Portuguese.
(To my mind) the most bizarre movie the Walt Disney company has ever produced, 1945's "The Three Caballeros" is a collection of animated shorts, all tied together by a bare-bones plot of Donald Duck learning about Latin America. The cartoons progress from typically sweet Disney family fare to a truly psychedelic, adult-oriented swingin'-single travelogue that turns Donald into a libidinous wolf.
It begins as Donald Duck, sitting alone in a room, receives a big box filled with birthday presents "from his friends in Latin America." First up are a few cartoons about some unusual animals of South America -- "The Cold Blooded Penguin," "A Visit With More Rare Birds" (rainforest birds) and "The Story of The Flying Gauchito" (a flying donkey). These three shorts take up the first 22 minutes of the film.
Next out of the box are two pop-up books about Brazil and Mexico. Each of these comes to life as its own peyote-paced animated featurette. First, the cigar-chomping José Carioca pops out of the Brazil book and takes Donald on a 19-minute trip to the town of Baia (today's Salvador). As a catchy rhythm builds, Carioca creates his own harmony by dividing into four identical versions of himself, male, then female.
Eventually the birds meet the Cookie Lady (a live-action singer who attracts men with her baked goods) and soon the whole thing turns into what perhaps can best be described as a samba-fueled cookie version of the Marilyn Monroe production number, "Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend." Donald gets jealous and pursues the Cookie Lady through the village - which is, all along, a live-action stage set meant to be a huge pop-up-book page. For the finale, the Cookie Lady turns blue, two of her live-action suitors turn into fighting gamecocks and soon everyone and everything -- including the buildings, the moon, the waves in the sea - dances into the night.
The book about Mexico brings forth Panchito, a six-gun-shooting cowboy rooster. He tosses sombreros to his new feathered friends, proclaims the trio "three gay caballeros" and takes Donald and José on a 30-minute flying-serape tour of his country. On Acapulco Beach, Donald goes ga-ga for dozens of live-action bathing beauties ("Come to Papa! Come here, my little enchilada!") and keeps losing his swimming suit. At night the duck can't stay away from the clubs, where he dances with still more real-life señoritas.
The movie's bizarre animation includes illogical color changes and an overdose of morphing gags. Donald himself assumes over a hundred shapes and color patterns, and once becomes a woman. Some scenes, however, are beautiful Mary Blair gems that would later inspire the films "Cinderella" and "Alice in Wonderland," as well as the classic Disney attraction It's a Small World. Sound great? My husband sure thinks so, and though I love the Mary Blair art, all the surreal animation and dated live-action blending don't exactly float my boat, and, well, I like my movies with a story! Still, some people have always found "The Three Caballeros" irresistibly entertaining, and it is certainly a must for any animation fan, as it shows the Disney animation team at its free-for-all zenith. This is a Full Screen Presentation (1.33:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:
2 Donald Duck cartoons - "Don Donald" and "Contrary Condor"
"South Of The Border With Disney" (30 mins) - behind-the-scenes documentary.