If there is bargain basement Disney, this is certainly it. (I speak of early Disney; in recent decades the studio has produced about as much trash animation as Hanna-Barbera or the makers of Speed Racer.) It had an odd genesis. In the early forties the Disney Studio was in trouble, since after Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, only Dumbo had been a hit. They needed money, so they decided to produce some films cheaply. The Reluctant Dragon was cheap, but a failure. Dumbo was also cheap, but they still weren’t out of the woods. Bambi would eventually cost $2,000,000, a constant drain during this period. And along come the State Department.
The State Department? That’s right. A lot of countries south of the Rio Grande had good relations with Nazi Germany, and to counteract that we wanted to send goodwill ambassadors. Who better than Mickey Mouse? Since Mick couldn’t appear himself, the government subsidized a long trip south for Walt and a bunch of his creative people. They toured Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru. They sketched everything they saw, and mixed with the people. I don’t know how it all worked out in terms of international relations, but everybody seemed to have a good time. And when they got home, the studio made two movies out of what they came back with: this one, and The Three Caballeros.
This one looks cobbled together. It’s only around 43 minutes long, barely enough to qualify as a feature. There are four animated segments, interlaced with a lot of home-movie quality film. This stuff would only be of real interest to Disneyphiles like me, who enjoy seeing old footage of Walt. I can’t think that contemporary audiences would respond well to it … though maybe so; it’s at least as good as some of the travelogues that were standard fare in theaters of the day, along with the cartoon and the newsreel.
The four animated segments are:
Lake Titicaca (a place we all snickered about when we were in the 7th grade; both parts of it are rude), which shows Donald Duck having his usual misadventures with reed boats and llamas.
Pedro, about a baby airplane crossing the Andes.
El Gaucho Goofy, with Mr. Geef demonstrating how to screw up big-time on horseback, and
Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolor of Brazil), the only one worth talking about. It uses the frequent Disney trope of the paintbrush sketching things in as we go along, and it is lovely to look at. There is a little of the surrealistic, psychedelic stuff the studio was experimenting with, things morphing in a nightmare manner, like “Pink Elephants on Parade.” These techniques would be sharpened up considerably in the next Disney feature, The Three Caballeros, which has some of the most amazing animation ever produced by hand drawing on cels.