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Saludos Amigos is the first of two films made by the Disney Company to try to improve US relations with the countries of Central and South America. Released in 1942 and shown first to audiences in South American, the film serves to convey information about the locations the animators visited from their unique perspectives.
There was, in each sequence, some live footage followed by some sketches that the animators have made, before showing the cartoon itself. The narration by Fred Shields ties the whole story together. At 42 minutes, it is truly the shortest of Disney films.
Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were also the two main films made after the United States entered WWII, the others being either propaganda or wartime shorts. Neither film is very common today; both are difficult to track down though Saludos Amigos is available to rent on Amazon.
Maybe because it’s so hard to track down, but there was much less information on Saludos Amigos from animation historians. Although the film was the first of Disney’s compilation films made in the 1940’s, it seems to have been mostly forgotten today. From what I saw, that is a real shame.
The music for Saludos Amigos was written by Edward Plumb, who we talked about last week with Dumb0, and Paul J. Smith. Smith was born in Michigan in 1906 and passed away in California in 1985. He worked on the music for numerous other Disney films, including Snow White, Pinocchio, Cinderella and the short Johnny Appleseed.
The music tries to catch the flavor of what we expect from South American music, incorporating the samba, traditional gaucho tunes, and music that the animators heard and loved at Lake Titicaca. Overall, the music is just as a much of a part of the overall magic and charm as in other Disney films. It serves to both enhance the animation and place the viewer and hearer in South America in another way. It was also nominated for three Oscars in 1944, Best Sound, Recording, Best Music, Original Song (Saludos Amigos), and Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture.
Mary Blair, who would later work on Alice and Wonderland and provide concept art for Peter Pan, worked as one of five Art Supervisors, while five of the Nine Old Men (Milt Kahl, Wooly Reitherman, Ward Kimball, Frank Thomas and Les Clark) were involved as animators.
The film is set up in an interesting way; after the credits, it opens with live color footage of the Disney animators and writers boarding the plane on their way to Brasil, Argentina, Chile, and Lake Titicaca. Of course, animation historians tell me that this was staged when Disney decided to make one film and give it an overarching story. Everyone wore what they had worn when they left and were filmed boarding the plane.
The live footage is shown between the shorts, in such a way as to show what the animators were taking as their inspiration. A great example of this is before the “El Gaucho Goofy” sequence. The Disney groups’ hosts are dancing and the film cuts away to the animators drawing the dancers and musicians in fast motion. These sketches always show up later, in some form, during the short. This also happens during the “Lake Titicaca” sequence. In both cases, the narrator talks about the culture, what the animators observed and what they choose to use in their cartoon.
This is an especially fun aspect to watch in the section before “Pedro,” about a little pioneer mail plane. The animators weren’t allowed to take photographs while flying over the Andes, so they sketched their impressions out while flying and after landing in Chile. The sketches were shown and they looked both beautiful and very realistic. After seeing the route that planes took to cross the border and talking to local pilots about the early mail planes, the idea for Pedro, the little mail plane, took form.
The “Aquarela Do Brasil” shows parts of the festival in Rio de Janeiro, in Brasil, as well as an architecture and some animators learning the samba. After this, a sequence begins where the animator is seen painting a picture of life in Brasil. The animation is flowing and fun, full of bright colors and is always changing. It’s a bit more fluid than the other pieces, which is fitting since the segment title can be translated to “A Watercolor of Brasil.”
There are clever and brightly colored maps, like in the opening to Dumbo, and all the text written on the map is in either Spanish or Portuguese, depending on which country we are currently looking at. One of the animators, Ward Kimball, is said to have called Saludos Amigos one of the most enjoyable films of his career and a very fun project (Bailey 1982: 176).
Overall, the animation is very similar in style to the more lighthearted Dumbo and a little less realistic. This could be seen as a negative thing, but it serves to contrast the live feed and make the whole feature more accessible to a wider audience, particularly children.
There are 4 animated shorts in Saludos Amigos, “Lake Titicaca,” “Pedro,” “El Gaucho Goofy,” and “Aquarela Do Brasil.” The four pieces are shown between live footage of Walt and his animators spending time exploring the locations before they animated them, which shows the amount of time and the effort spent on this project.
“Lake Titicaca” is the first animated short to be seen in this feature and it tells the story of a hapless tourist, Donald Duck, and his adventures. Since it’s designed as a travel log, Donald is shown as participating in many aspects of local culture as perceived by the animators. The live action shots are filtered in with stills that the animators drew, and further contrasted with Donald Duck and the more cartoony aspect.
This was probably my least favorite of the segments, because it was a bit more cartoon-like (yes, I realize that this is a cartoon) and I am not a fan of heights, even animated one. I did appreciate it though, and I liked how they adapted what they saw into the short.
In “Pedro,” the story is one of a little mail plane that lives in Santiago, Chile with his parents. His father is a mail plane that carries letters between Santiago and Mendoza, Argentina over the Andes while Pedro is attending school until he grows up. One day, his father becomes ill and someone has to get the mail (his mother has high oil pressure, so she can’t go).
“Pedro” reminds me of the story of “The Little Engine That Could,” the tiny little engine/plane that defies all the odds to do a seemingly impossible task. It’s a cute little short and Pedro is an adorable little plane.
In “El Gaucho Goofy,” Goofy is a cowboy from the American West who is transported to Argentina to learn about being a gaucho. Being a gaucho, we’re told, is very similar to being a cowboy. As Goofy learns about the life of a gaucho; talking about the clothes, food and fun things that they did, so do viewers. Of course, since Goofy is the star, there is a lot of humor and a sense of slapstick comedy. I personally love this sequence, it was fun and educational.
“Aquarela Do Brasil,” introduces Joe Carioca, a singing and dancing parrot. He is based on a specific type of parrot that is a character in many local stories. In addition, this segment is a musical number featuring Tico Tico No Tuba by Zequinha de Abreu.
I loved this sequence. Opening with a painting artist, it shows the artists’ interpretation of Brasil before introducing Donald Duck and Joe. Joe tries to teach everyone’s favorite angry bird about the samba. Despite the initial difficulties, it eventually clicks for the reluctant mallard.
All the stories here are based on stories, events and places that the animators and writers saw on their journey through South America. These are discussed before each animated feature, which I thought was a really fun idea and a nice touch.
When last we talked about the Disney Studio in the 40’s, the animators were on strike and the United States was about to enter the War; all in all, it was a tense time. When Disney and his team came back to the US, the government had helped arrange a settlement and the Disney Studio was now unionized. Bob Thomas points out that this did hurt the formally open relationship that Walt and his animators had enjoyed; there was now a sense of bitterness (Thomas 1992:95).
The strike and the War also worked together to change the way the Studio functioned, causing many talented animators to leave, including Art Babbitt (who had animated Geppetto) and Bill Tytla (Bailey 1982: 174). This, in many ways, paved the road for the rise of the Nine Old Men.
The trip itself was supposed to be a basic goodwill tour, but Disney asked the State Department to make it a film project as well. The State Department agreed and also offered to underwrite the cost for four shorts at up to $50,000 per film (Finch 1975: 113-4). The original plan was to release each short separately, but the studio decided to make a single film and spliced in the live action and individual sketch portions of the film.
This trip was suggested by the State Department in the first place because of the War. Not only was Europe fighting, but some of the South American countries had ties to Germany, particularly Argentina. The United States wanted to foster better a better relationship with Argentina and her neighbors, to maybe dissuade her from joining the War on the side of Germany. It was a paranoid time, which, frankly, with the whole world at war, is fair.
After these two films, Disney began making War-time shorts. These included “Der Fuehrer’s Face,” where Donald Duck has a nightmare that he is in Nazi Germany, “How To Be A Sailor,” and other similar shorts, many commissioned by multiple departments of the United States government.
There are several lessons that I can see in Saludos Amigos. In “Pedro,” Pedro forgot about his job to get the mail over the Andes. When he forgot, he ended up in the path of a storm and the big bully mountain. All of Pedro’s problems stem from his shrinking from his responsibilities and playing before his job was done.
This could be seen as a reminder to kids, in the form of a lovable little plane; that you have to do your job before you can have fun. With a country at war, it might be that Disney was trying to remind American children that everyone has a job to do, whether collecting scrap metal or helping in the Victory Garden.
Another lesson can be seen in “El Gaucho Goofy,” where an American Cowboy is transported to the Pampas of Argentina and becomes a gaucho. In this segment, we are shown both the differences and similarities between the two, in the way that only Goofy can.
However, despite all the differences that are shown, one thing sticks out; at the core, the two are very similar. To me, this reminds me that as different as different cultures are, and as important as it is to learn about those differences, we all have a lot more in common than we think. In a world torn by war, this is an important thing to remember.
The last thing that I learned I tie to “Aquarela Do Brasil.” For me, it’s the fact that Donald goes to visit a new place and tries to learn about the culture. He has a large pile of Spanish/English dictionaries and is doing his best to keep up with Joe when they are talking. When he has a question, he asks it and when Joe tries to explain the samba to him, he tries to understand and to dance it.
I suppose the lesson here is that when you go to a new place, half of the fun is learning about that place; what do they eat, drink and dance? Disney and his team traveled abroad and learned about four distinct places that clearly left a mark on them and inspired them. When we travel, we should give each place we visit the same chance and respect.
DOES IT HOLD UP?
I was very pleasantly surprised with Saludos Amigos; the potential for a series of cartoons conceived as a goodwill gesture in the early 1940s could have easily been less than stellar, particularly after watching Dumbo; regardless of intention, it can still be seen as offensive. The fact that Saludos Amigos has only had one VHS release and two DVD releases also raised some red flags to me; why is this a buried film?
However, I found myself loving this film, particularly the last segment when Jose is teaching Donald Duck about the samba, and Donald’s use of at least 5 Spanish/English dictionaries to understand what Jose is saying. The use of Donald and Goofy helps fit these shorts into the established world of the Disney shorts, while introducing new characters like Pedro and Joe.
Why is this a buried film? I don’t know. It’s a lot of fun, with bright colors and great music. I feel like, for a series of short cartoons celebrating South American culture, Saludos Amigos really catches the attention and imagination. I certainly want to do some research, maybe some traveling and, like I learned from Gaucho Goofy, we’re all not that different anyway. Hasta la vista and adios amigos!
For next week: The Three Caballeros
If you enjoyed this post and the others in the Revisiting Disney series, and have found yourself wishing that you could find them all in one convenient and bound book with eight extra essays, there is an option for you! Check out A Journey Through Disney: My Look Back Through Disney Canon, now available on Amazon as both a Kindle book ($4.99) and a paperback ($11.99).
Bailey, Adrian. Walt Disney’s World of Fantasy. Everest House Publishers. New York, New York. 1982.
Finch, Christopher. The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom. Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York, New York. 1975.
Sale, Roger. Fairy Tales and After: From Snow White to E.B. White. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA, 1978.
Tatar, Maria. The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales. W.W. Norton and Company. New York and London, 2002.
Thomas, Bob. Disney’s Art of Animation From Mickey Mouse to Hercules. Hyperion. New York, New York. 1992.
Wright, Gordon. The Ordeal of Total War: 1939-1945. Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row. New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, and London, 1968.Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.