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.
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.
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.