Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Three Caballeros


Number three of the “package” films the Disney studio made during WWII, to keep their hand in while they made masterpieces like “Four Methods of Flush Riveting” for Uncle Sam. This is the follow-up to Saludos Amigos, both inspired by a Latin American trip Walt and his animators made for the State Department, intending to foster good relations with our Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking neighbors to the south. It’s a much better film than the first one. It’s hosted by Donald Duck, José Carioca, the cigar-smoking Brazilian parrot (and I’m surprised they haven’t edited out the cigar for home video, as they did to Pecos Bill later), and a new face, a Mexican rooster named Panchito Pistoles. The unifying theme is that it’s Donald’s birthday (Friday the 13th) and he’s opening a big package of presents. Each one takes him on a trip—and for the final one, it’s a trip in the most modern sense.
It seems to me like a lesson in animation. We start with Animation 101, a routine little tale about “The Cold-blooded Penguin,” who sets off on an ice floe for warmer climes. Nothing to shout about here.
Next is “The Flying Guachito,” about a burro with wings. It’s a little better.
Moving right along, we next have “Baia” about the Brazilian town. It’s presented as a pop-up book, and Donald and Jose jump into each scene. Live action and animation begin to mix, very nicely, as the human characters sing and dance to Brazilian music. One of the solo dancers is Aurora Miranda, Carmen Miranda’s sister.
“Las Posadas” is minimalist animation, mostly still images showing how Mexican children celebrate Christmas.
We are now joined by Panchito, who takes Donald and José riding on a flying serape to “Mexico: Pátzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco,” where there is more singing and dancing, and a lot more live action/animation mixing, including Donald chasing after a lot of pretty girls on the beach, with them tossing him in the air on a blanket. It’s all very nicely integrated.
In “You Belong To My Heart” things begin to get quite a lot trippier, in the higher-than-a-kite sense of the word. A woman’s disembodied face in a star sings the song to Donald. Some very good animation.
And at last, we get into the doctorate program in animation, all the stops are pulled out in a big way, in “Donald’s Surreal Reverie.” This is some of the most amazing animation ever, like “Pink Elephants on Parade,” only longer, crazier, much more elaborate. I don’t think they had the word “hallucinogenic” back there in the ‘40s, but that’s exactly what this is, even more than Fantasia. When I first saw this on video, some years ago, I was just blown away. I’d had no idea Disney was doing stuff like this that many years ago. I kept wondering what kind of storyboards they used to plan these sequences, when things changed colors very quickly, and one thing morphed into another in a way that certainly would have interested Freud or Rorschach.