Welcome to Revisiting Disney! Today, we’re looking at that movie which, to be frank, I had no recollection of having ever seen before this week, The Three Caballeros! Because the Disney wartime films are collections of shorts, the format is a little different (there’s no source material, per se).
This one will also be a little shorter because it’s the second of the Wartime Peace Films and, as little as is written about Saludos Amigos, it seems like less is written about The Three Caballeros.
Of course, I have labeled each category so if you want to skip to the parts that interest you most, feel free. And, of course, if you have any thoughts, burning or otherwise, please share in the comments!
Released on December 21st, 1944 with a World Premiere in Mexico City, The Three Caballeros was generally considered a sequel to Saludos Amigos. Both were products of the trip that Disney and some of his animators took to South and Central America to try to improve American relations with the countries of South and Central America. In the case of The Three Caballeros, Mexico makes an appearance with the character of Panchito, who teaches Donald and Joe about Mexico.
Finch mentions that The Three Caballeros is a bit of a disappointment, especially when compared to Saludos Amigos; he calls it “patchy and with no highlights to compare with the best things in Saludos Amigos” (Finch 1975: 114). I would have to agree with him, though I would say that the title song “The Three Caballeros,” is a lot of fun, regardless.
The music in this film is a fun mixture of traditional music and new fun pieces. Edward Plumb is again responsible for the majority of the music, with the assistance of Paul Smith and Charles Wolcott. Paul Smith composed the music for this film, as well as for many of the War-Time shorts, Fun and Fancy Free, Melody Time, Cinderella, and So Dear To My Heart.
Charles Wolcott composed the music for this film, Make Mine Music, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and other films, as well as working on numerous Disney films in other capacities, as both Smith and Plumb did.
According to the IMDB, one of the songs, “You Belong to My Heart,” was later reused in another short featuring Pluto in 1947 and it was later recorded by Bing Crosby. IMDB also tells me that the title song is a folk standard in Mexico, “Ay, Jalisco, No To Rajes.”
My favorite song, though, is the title song, “The Three Caballeros,” sung by Donald, Joe, and Panchito. It’s a catchy number that gets stuck in your head and refuses to get out; a perfect precursor to the other songs Disney would stick in our heads.
For The Three Caballeros, this was another film that the animators clearly had a lot of fun working on. The animation is very fun, colorful and upbeat, almost to the point of overwhelmingly so. Since this is a film in celebration of a birthday, however, this does make sense.
Six of the Nine Old Men were involved, and Mary Blair again served as an art supervisor. When comparing this film to other works by Mary Blair, and the characters to other stories developed by the Nine Old Men, you can see this influence. Although each film is different, the Nine Old Men have a distinct style, and so does the work of Mary Blair.
I did really appreciate the way that the live action characters interact with the animated ones. It was a really fun way to approach the story and IMDB tells me that this is the first time since the 20’s that Disney had combined live action and animation (except for Mickey Mouse in Fantasia).
THE PLOTThe overall plot to The Three Caballeros is similar to the plot of Saludos Amigos, trying to teach the audience, mainly kids, about the different ways people live in South and Central America through song and art. In The Three Caballeros, however, the framework is centered on Donald Duck and his birthday.
Donald has received several gifts from his friends in Latin America, as well as visits from two of those friends, Joe Carioca from Saludos Amigos and a new friend, Panchito, a Charro Rooster from Mexico. The two proceed to teach Donald about their culture (though more emphasis is given to Mexico).
There is also a running joke about Donald falling in love with and chasing a wide variety of human women. While the effect of the animated duck interacting with real women is an impressive one, it did get a little old after a while.
Donald’s first gift, before Joe shows up, is a projector and some home movies about strange birds. These include the tale of Pablo, a penguin who wanted to live in the tropics and a little boy and his flying burro, or burrito, titled, “The Flying Gauchito,” as well as a short segment on the birds of the Amazon. These were fun little shorts, but did not seem to go as well with the second half of the film. It almost seemed like two separate films were spliced together.
The source material is based on the Disney studio’s trip to South and Central America in the early 40’s, trying to draw on as much of the cultures they are trying to represent, from the music to the dancing.
At the risk of repeating what I said last time, basically, the same things are happening. The Studio is still reeling from a major strike and using the footage and concepts that were planned during the tour that lead to Saludos Amigos.
The United States is still involved in WWII and they are still trying to preserve good relations with their neighbors to the south through animation. I think we should go back to that. Can we do that today, goodwill animation?
Here’s a quick rundown (if you read last week’s post, this might seem familiar). The Disney Studio’s trip 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. When Disney and his team came back to the US, the government had helped arrange a settlement and the Disney Studio was now unionized (Thomas 1992:95).
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.
This time, the focus is more on Mexico and less on Argentina, maybe because Mexico is a very close neighbor who was left out of the last film and we want to make sure they know we appreciate them too. Either way, it provides a way for audiences to travel and learn about new cultures that they might not have had direct access to.
This was the last of the full-length animated Disney films made during the War. The episodic movies will continue with Make Mine Music in 1946. Luckily, for the world and the Disney Studio, the War was almost over. Of course, there will be repercussions, particularly with regards to the Manhattan Project, but we’ll come back to that next week when we get to 1946.
This film continues the lessons learned in Saludos Amigos; the major lesson being that it’s important to learn about other cultures. Joe continues to teach Donald about Brasil, and Panchito teaches them both about Mexico. I suppose the major takeaway, for me, was that when you travel it’s important to learn about the place you have traveled to.
The other lesson comes from one of the shorts, “The Flying Gauchito,” where a little Gaucho and a flying burro compete in a race. The Gauchito is small and nervous about his first time hunting alone, and when he catches the burrito, he sees a way to gain fame and fortune. When they enter the race, the other contestants laugh at them because they are so small. When they win, the two are suddenly admired, and, before they fly away, they have fame and fortune. To me, this says that no one is too small to make their dreams come true, a very Disney-esque moral and one that is good to remember.
DOES IT HOLD UP?
Honestly, I had a hard time with The Three Caballeros. I really found it much less engaging than other films that were made by the Disney Studio, or those made about Latin America. One of my favorite animated films is The Book of Life, and I feel like I raved about Saludos Amigos last week. Put those two together and I found myself disappointed in what I got here, which was unfair of me.
I’m sure this is just personal taste, since Caballeros is better known than Saludos Amigos, but I still can’t help but feel this way. The stories, overall, seemed less engaging like they were trying to do too much at once.
However, it is an important film in the Disney canon, and one that still has stunning animation, frequent use of live action and animated characters interacting and some really fun music. It may not be my favorite, but it’s still worth the time it’ll take to track down and the 72 minutes it’ll take to watch it.
For next week: Make Mine Music
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.