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Breanna - a lifelong Disney fan - is a writer who lives on a cattle ranch in Alabama. She wants a t-shirt that says, "Where Were You When Mufasa Died?"

Monday, November 1, 2010

“Then Finally We Have the Poncho… Which Just About Covers Everything”

           Welcome to the dawn of the “package film.”  A little history lesson before we get into Saludos Amigos.  The Second World War had all but eliminated the European market for Disney films, which played a heavy hand in the financial disappointments of big budget flicks like Pinocchio, Fantasia, and Bambi.  Walt needed money but he didn’t have the money to make another gamble on a grand animated flick.  The animated shorts were considerably cheaper to produce, so they decided to release a bunch of them that were framed together thematically as a full-length feature.  They called them “package films” because they were a bunch of shorts packaged together.
            Saludos Amigos, and later The Three Caballeros, were created specifically for the purpose of appealing to the countries south of the American border.  Walt Disney and several artists and writers actually toured through South America as a goodwill tour for F.D.R.’s Good Neighbor Policy.  I had to look up the specifics, but F.D.R. felt that with the entire world at war with each other, it was more important than ever to establish good relations with our neighboring nation, South America.  It turns out a couple of South American nations had close ties to Nazi Germany.  Mickey Mouse and the like were so popular down there that the United States government specifically chose Walt Disney to serve as an ambassador for the U.S.  Because the film was made specifically for the Good Neighbor Policy, the film itself actually received federal loan guarantees.
            So it becomes hard to criticize this film too harshly, since it was made as a matter of national security.  Also keep in mind that these were some harsh times the whole world was trying to get through, and Walt Disney was no exception.  From an animation standpoint, there’s really nothing new here.  Have you seen the Disney shorts?  Then you’ve seen the animation for this film. 
That’s not to say it’s bad animation.  I’ve always been impressed with what they accomplished in the shorts.  Just bear in mind that I watched Bambi right before watching this film so it’s a bit of a shock to essentially go backwards in terms of quality.  The big standout moment in terms of animation was easily the “Aquarela do Brasil” sequence.  The paintbrush was a lovely touch and they managed to do some lovely creative stuff with it, especially when they were “painting” Rio at the start.  On the subject of José Carioca, I really liked his voice.  When I was twelve years old, I lived in Portugal, so it was fun for me to recognize some of the Portuguese words that he said.  The music also made me bounce my hips in time with the beat.

Donald’s bit on Lake Titicaca was amusing.  The llama on the rope bridge was the best part of the whole short.  To be honest, though, I’ve seen Donald do better.  The short was Pedro, the humanized child plane, was cute but kind of predictable.  I don’t know why, but the part in that short that made me laugh was when they showed the interior of Pedro’s school and when the narrator said, “Anatomy,” they showed the skeleton of an airplane.  Again, I’m not sure why I found it so funny but there you have it.
Of the original characters, I’ve always been a Donald Duck fan, but I have to say that the funniest short to come out of this was easily Goofy’s foray into becoming a gaucho the “El Gaucho Goofy” short.  My favorite part was when Goofy was supposedly strumming a heartfelt tune on his guitar that brought his horse to tears.  Interestingly, this short in particular has been edited for home release because there was a scene where Goofy smoked a cigarette.  Which is kind of odd, considering José Carioca smoke a cigar in the same movie.  Though I am an advocate against smoking, I do have to roll my eyes at that because like I said earlier, this film is a reflection of the time it was made, and everyone smoked back then.
On that note, this film really is a snapshot of 1942 South America from the eyes of a bunch of American mutts.  It has the feel of those informative newsreels that they used to show during movies in the forties (the ones Mystery Science Theatre 3000 poked fun at), like the commentary about the natives living around Lake Titicaca and the gauchos’ dancing.  To be honest, one of the things I enjoyed most about the film was spotting a very young Frank Thomas interacting with a youngish Walt Disney.  So many of the interviews conducted with Mr. Thomas were done when he was much older and I always enjoyed what he had to say, so it was a treat to see him in action as a young animator. 
I apologize if this blog is shorter than the ones I have posted previously.  But truth be told, it’s actually kind of fitting because this is the shortest Disney animated film ever made (forty two minutes long).  I literally looked up from writing on my laptop to discover the words, “the end” flashing on the screen.  “Oh my gosh, it’s over already?” Oh well.  Adios.


  1. Yes, Saludos Amigos is probably the slightest of all the Disney canon. It's only 45 minutes long and as you say is just four or five shorts stitched together. And it's all tied with live action footage; probably a third of the film is live action, which makes its "animated classic" status even more dubious. All the live action footage was re-edited and released seperately as a short later too (it's on the recent DVD).

    The film is probably most notable for introducing Joe Carioca (which may be why it counts, since he's already known in the next film). I love this character. I agree about the smoking hypocrisy though. If he gets a cigar, why doesn't cowboy Goofy get a cigarette? It's not even a commentary on the time; it's a commentary on COWBOYS. American Cowboys smoke (Pecos Bill is the same way). Anyway, the smoking issue may be part of why Carioca is still relatively unknown today. It's a shame they never did more with him because he is such a wonderful and charismatic character who really does establish goodwill among the Americas. There's a large Brazillian population in my town, so I find him especially funny. A shame he never made it past the '40s.

    I think you sell Pedro short. It's the only piece that tells a real narrative story which, though predictable, is still nice. I like his design and some of the clever gags around him. Also, Pedro helps make Saludos Amigos more of a curiosity to see because he is never seen anywhere else; just like The Reluctant Dragon must be seen for the Baby Weems segment. Besides maybe Jose (who gets even more personality next time around), Pedro's my favorite character in the film.

    The Goofy short is solid stuff (I agree with you that the Donald segment feels a bit lacking). The most inventive part for me is when there's a camera wipe and Goofy gets caught on it! That's just a brilliant gag, and I wish the company would go back to some of that.

    I also love the Aqualera de Brasil sequence. It's a nice way to end the film, and a good representation of the song. The song of course may be more familiar to people as the song that features in (and lends its title to) Terry Gilliam's "Brazil". It was also used in the ads for Wall-E.

    Not much comes of this film as a whole, but the trip did inspire the artists to do a few more fun things in the shorts, to make a brilliantly psychedelic follow-up film, and helped with a number of educational good-will shorts for the Americas. It's not the best of Disney's wartime effort (frankly, Victory Through Air Power, though a bit like a lecture, is still very strong), but it's a nice companion piece to Three Caballeros. Not very engaging on its own though.

  2. I had forgotten how short this movie was. I love the Goofy short. However, I have to agree. Why get rid of the smoking? It seems that it was an unnecessary waste of time and probably a little bit of money. I'd much rather they'd kept it in.

    I think the Pedro short is cute. While nowhere near my favorite Donald short, I love the part where the llama is being forced to dance. He looks so annoyed.

    Of course, the star is Jose. I love him! I had forgotten that he was introduced in this movie. I wish they would have used him more.