A pseudo sequel to Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros actually works a bit more as a film that its Latin flavored predecessor. For one thing, it’s not simply a couple of shorts held together by a framing device. It does actually (well, sort of, kind of) have a plot: It’s Donald’s birthday and he receives three presents from his south of the border friends. What follows are some classic Disney cartoons hi-jinks that take its audience all over Mexico and some parts of Brazil.
Next, we have the short tale of Pablo, the penguin who dreams of tropical weather. It’s pretty cute; the bit at the beginning where Pablo keeps turning in front of his stove to keep both his front and his back warm is especially charming. “The Flying Gauchito” was amusing too, but mainly due to the narration. The bit where he was trying to remember what exactly he climbed atop of was priceless.
And then we travel down to Baia with José Carioca and this is where things get interesting. Donald and José participate in an extended dance scene with a very pretty and fully live action Aurora Miranda. Why is this interesting? Because if you don’t count the brief moment where Mickey Mouse and Leopold Stokowski share the screen in silhouette in Fantasia, then this is the first time in the history of the studios that they have blended live action and animation since the early Alice comedies. Not the finest example of animation and live action interacting together (it’s very obvious at multiple points that the live action actors were performing in front of a screen where the animation was meant to be), but it was the very start of something the Disney Company would become famous for later . Had there not been a Three Caballeros, there might not have been a Mary Poppins, Pete’s Dragon, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and Enchanted. Thus, a mere package film is suddenly elevated to a landmark moment for the studios.
More live action interaction happens when Donald is given a tour of Mexico on board a flying sarape. Man alive, if Daisy Duck saw how Donald was acting around those sunbathing beauties, she would be having a serious temper tantrum in true duck style. Now being a fan of classic vintage clothing, I really enjoyed seeing the old school bathing suites, which actually managed to be sexy and maintain a woman’s modesty. I have to agree with Panchito Pistoles in the sentiment that Donald was acting like a total wolf.
Ah, Panchito. Your introduction was memorable and spawned a song that could potentially rival “it’s a small world after all” for its ability to get stuck in your head. I like his design, even if it is very much a Mexican stereotype, and the way they portrayed Mexico indicated only a hint of the beauty and rich culture that the country possesses. Panchito and José have definitely proven memorable since their introductions in these films, though not quite on the scale as Donald. The three of them together would actually go on to vastly improve an aspect of Disney that is closely tied to Mexico.
I am of course talking about the Mexico pavilion in Epcot. Having the distinction of being the only indoor pavilion of the eleven countries represented in World Showcase, it is, in my opinion, the most immersive of the pavilions (as well as being a nice break from the hot sun). The attraction that used to be inside the pavilion, El Rio del Tiempo (The River of Time), was very much a product of 1982 and I don’t mean that in a good way. It was cheesy and tried very hard to be serious. It was an attraction that begged for a refurb.
And in 2007, a refurb it got in the form of Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. This slow moving boat ride through Mexico was transformed into a slow moving boat ride through Mexico with Donald, José, and Panchito. They have even proven popular enough to be meet and greet characters outside the pavilion. Was it a smart move? Absolutely. For one thing, this is a Disney theme park and it’s great for guests to see the characters they love whenever they can. Secondly, The Three Caballeros was a film that was created to display the beauty and wonder of Mexican culture, which is exactly the goal of all of the pavilions in World Showcase. I’m surprised that they hadn’t thought to marry the two sooner.
Of course, this film doesn’t exactly pop up in the first slot of favorite Disney film lists very often… if at all. It’s definitely not on the same caliber as say Beauty and the Beast, but it does have something in common with a film widely regarded as a classic. Towards the end of the “You Belong to My Heart” segment, Donald is transported into some trippy, psychedelic, and yes, pink animation almost on par with the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence from Dumbo. Considering that Dumbo had been their most successful film since Snow White, it doesn’t really surprise me that they would pull from that film’s bag of tricks. The most surreal moment of the piece in my opinion was Dora Luz’s face transposed onto that flower bud. That being said, the animation for this sequence was more refined than “Pink Elephants on Parade,” and at times more beautiful to watch, especially when the flowers would literally burst all over the screen.