Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.” (This article was originally published on the Disqus site.)

Title: Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros

Year: 1942 and 1944

Background: The Disney Studio was in trouble. While Snow White was a hit, the beginning of World War Two cut the studio off from the foreign markets for Pinocchio, Fantasia , and Bambi As a result, the studio was in debt to Bank of America, which was demanding austerity measures. Disney took on a contract with the United States government to make instructional films, as well as films like Victory Through Air Power.

At the same time, the Disney Studio was feeling the effect of the labor movement. Although the studio paid better than others, they still had unfair labor practices. Led by Arthur Babbit, the animators went on strike, some of them never to return to the studio. In addition to Babbit, some of the animators who left were Bill Tytla, Walt Kelly, Virgil Partch, Preston Blair, Ed Love, Walter Clinton, Grant Simmons, and Bill Meléndez.

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Enter Nelson Rockefeller, Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs. The United States Department of State commissioned a Disney goodwill tour of South America, intended to lead to a movie to be shown in the US, Central, and South America as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. This was being done because several Latin American governments had close ties with Germany, and the US government wanted to counteract those ties. So while arbitration too place at the studio, Disney and a group of roughly twenty composers, artists, technicians, etc. from his studio went to South America, mainly to Brazil and Argentina, but also to Chile and Peru.

Mary Blair This is a great time to introduce one of my favorite artists. Mary Blair.

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She graduated from San Jose State University in 1931, and won a scholarship to the Chouinard Art Institute. She married another artist, Lee Everett Blair . Mary joined The Walt Disney Company in 1940 and worked briefly on art for Dumbo . The watercolors that Mary painted on the South America trip inspired Walt to assign her as an art supervisor for both the animated feature films.

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Mary Blair has been credited with introducing modernist art styles to Walt Disney and his studio by using primary colors to form intense contrast and colors that are unnatural to the image they are depicting.

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In 1991, Blair was recognized with a posthumous Disney Legend award. We’re going to see her work in the next several films.

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Saludos Amigos

This film features four different segments, each of which begin with various clips of the Disney artists roaming the country, absorbing the local cultures and scenery, and creating drawing. Then each segment features the animation their trip inspired.

Lake Titicaca

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In this segment, American tourist Donald Duck visits Lake Titicaca and meets some of the locals, including an obstinate llama.

Pedro

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Pedro involves the title character, a small anthropomorphic airplane from an airport near Santiago, Chile, engaging in his very first flight to pick up air mail from Mendoza, with disastrous results occurring when near Aconcagua.

El Gaucho Goofy

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In this segment, American cowboy Goofy gets taken mysteriously to the Argentinian pampas to learn the ways of the native gaucho.

Aquarela do Brasil
Aquarela do Brasil (“Watercolor of Brazil”), introduced José Carioca from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He shows Donald Duck around South America, having a drink of cachaça with him and introducing him to the samba.

Cast and characters

Walt Disney, Lee and Mary Blair, Norman Ferguson, Frank Graham, and Frank Thomas as themselves
Clarence Nash – Donald Duck (also dubbed the Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian versions)
Pinto Colvig – Goofy
José Oliveira – José Carioca (also dubbed the Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian versions; also narrated the Italian version)

The Three Caballeros

It is Donald Duck’s birthday, and he receives three presents from friends in Latin America. The first present is a film projector, which shows him a documentary about birds. During the documentary, he learns about the Aracuan Bird, who received his name because of his eccentric song.

The Cold-Blooded Penguin
A penguin named Pablo is so fed up with the freezing conditions of the South Pole that he decides to leave his home for warmer climates landing on the Galápagos Islands.

The Flying Gauchito
The adventures of a little boy and his winged donkey, who goes by the name of Burrito

Baía
The next present is a book given to Donald by José. This book tells of Bahia (spelled “Baía” in the film), which is one of Brazil’s 26 states. José shrinks them both down so that they can enter the book. Donald and José meet up with several of the locals, who dance a lively samba, and Donald ends up pining for one girl, portrayed by singer Aurora Miranda.

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After opening the present, he meets Panchito, a native of Mexico. The trio take the name “The Three Caballeros” and have a short celebration. Panchito then presents Donald’s next present, a piñata.

Las Posadas

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This is the story of a group of Mexican children who celebrated Christmas by re-enacting the journey of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Saint Joseph searching for room at the inn.

Mexico: Pátzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco

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Panchito gives Donald and José a tour of Mexico on a flying sarape, or magic carpet.

You Belong to My Heart
The skies of Mexico City result in Donald falling in love with singer Dora Luz. The lyrics in the song itself play parts in the scenarios as to what is happening as well.

Donald’s Surreal Reverie
Several imagined kisses lead to Donald going into the “Love is a drug” scene. Donald constantly envisions sugar rush colors, flowers, and Panchito and José popping in at the worst moments, making chaos. The scene changes after Donald manages to dance with Carmen Molina from the state of Oaxaca, from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. This scene is notable for providing the masterful combination of live-action and cartoon animation, as well as animation among the cacti.

Voice Actors 
Clarence Nash – Donald Duck (also dubbed the Spanish, Portuguese and Italian versions)
José Oliveira – José Carioca (also dubbed the Spanish and Italian version)
Joaquin Garay – Panchito Pistoles (also dubbed the Italian version and the songs in the Spanish version)

Critical reception Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros received mixed reviews upon its original release. Most critics were relatively perplexed by the “technological razzle-dazzle” of the film, thinking that, in contrast to the previous feature films up to this time, “it displayed more flash than substance, more technique than artistry.”

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Legacy The Three Cabelleros appear in some of Disney’s themed resorts, such as Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort where one can find topiaries of the trio, and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort where a fountain depicting the trio is the centrepiece of the Guitar-shaped Calypso Pool. In April 2007, the film became the basis for a ride at the Mexican pavilion at Walt Disney World’s Epcot named Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. Recently they added animatronics of the trio that were once used in the parks in The Mickey Mouse Review. Panchito, Jose, and Donald appear in the reopening of Disneyland’s version of It’s a Small World in the Mexican segment of the ride.

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Next week: A pair of anthology films. Melody Time and Make Mine Music