Saludos Amigos (1942) Review
What do I know about the film?
Bugger all. Next!
Ok. I know Donald Duck is in and it introduced a character called José Carioca. Who is a parrot.
This is great stuff.
Fine, let’s get real. America had entered the war and half of the Disney staff had been drafted. This was a problem. And they were skint. Also a problem. And so began a period of package films, six in total beginning with ‘Saludos Amigos’ in 1942, that were made up of a series of shorts rather than a full length animated story. While some of these films contain the cutting room floor efforts from ‘Fantasia,’ or just shorter and cheaper versions of full length title ideas, the first two package films had a more…specific goal in mind. And this is where it actually gets interesting. In fact, this bit may be far more interesting than the film itself (Spoiler: It is. It really, really is.)
Disney was asked to put together a film designed to improve relations between South America and the USA. Apparently the peeps in Peru were crazy about the House of Mouse so it seemed like a wise choice. The idea? To sever supposed ties between the Nazi’s and the Latin American government. Let that sink in for a moment.
So…The plan was to lure them away from the Nazi’s through the power of…Disney. Yup. Good stuff guys. How exactly was that supposed to work? The mind boggles. I have tried to find some kind of evidence for how it was received, I want to know if it was a good idea or a crap idea, but sadly documented responses were not easy to locate. I guess there was bigger historical shit going down at the time. All I know is it did well enough. It was quite popular. And regardless of whether making Mickey Mouse an ambassador during the second world war was a solid plan for reasons that I cannot possibly understand…it was undeniably an odd one. ‘Saludos Amigos’ is almost worth it just to see Disney attempting to build cultural bridges with their southern neighbours. Note: I said ALMOST.
Oh, also at 42 minutes long it is the shortest film in the Disney classics cannon. For continuity purposes I should also point out that this is one of several package films to include live action people as well as animation meaning that ‘Fantasia’ wasn’t a fluke meaning my initial assertion that I would only be reviewing animated films has proven to be a lie very early on. Sorry. I am too lazy to update my introduction but know this: These films are listed as Animated Classics. Disney lied to me too. Plus, I have rethought my rules and do in fact plan to go back and review ‘Mary Poppins’ and the like after I have got through all these. Try and contain your excitement, we have a long way to go.
Did I see it as a child?
No way Jose. I am not even sure if you can get this on VHS or DVD despite its inclusion on the Walt Disney Studios classics list. Hold on I will check…You can. Now. It was released on VHS and DVD in the year 2000. Incrível.
Um…Ok…Despite Mickey Mouse being the poster rodent for Disney and very popular in Latin America, it turns out he does not feature in any of the segments. I guess Walt thought it was too dangerous for the little guy?
So It starts with a cheery song (‘Saludos Amigos’) and we learn that the Disney animators, artists and musicians are heading to South America to learn things and create magic and have a happy, happy, please don’t stay friends with the Nazi’s, happy time! We’re cooler! We have a cartoon dog thing! (What the hell is Goofy? The ‘Stand by Me’ boys never did figure him out. If he is a dog how come he looks like that? What dog looks like that? He wears a turtleneck for crying out loud!)
Story 1: Donald Duck goes to Lake Titicaca and tries to explore the mountains with a Llama.
Story 2: A little plane called Pedro flies from Chile to Mendoza and back with some post.
Story 3: Goofy is a cowboy in Argentina. He and his horse seem to be in love. Which is fine. He also smokes for a few seconds. This is NOT. (Goofy enjoying a cigarette outside in the middle of nowhere was considered too controversial and therefore is cut from most versions which when you consider that ‘Peter Pan’ still contains the song ‘What Makes the Red Man Red?’ it is kind of hilarious)
Story 4: A Parrot teaches Donald the samba while they hang out in Rio de Janeiro.
* The biggest tumbleweed you have ever seen in your life rolls past singing an awkwardly shoehorned in Argentinian love song in a desperate attempt to seem like it cares about South America at a time where alliances between continents were the difference between life, death and whether or not your film studio got bankrolled… *
Well this is awkward. Hang on…I can think using my brain…I believe in me…
It is only 42 minutes long. Which was a relief.
Ok…I can do this.
Donald Duck is a reliably relatable character although his shtick here is somewhat tamed by the desperate attempts from the studio to make him seem fascinated by the culture around him. If you are a fan of the character…he is in this film. Fact.
Pedro the plane is quite a sweet character…I didn’t want him to die or anything. The reveal that the mission he risked his little plane life for was not top secret war documents but a postcard was quite funny. Although I have spoiled that now…Sorry.
Goofy…Well…there are some fine jokes around the fact that being a gaucho (cowboy) is a manly job and he is quite affable and not especially alpha in spirit. I didn’t go as far as to laugh. Ye Gods no. But I was aware that somebody had gone to the effort of putting jokes in the script. Which was decent of them.
And finally…I quite liked the last bit. At first. The artist is drawing a Brazilian jungle and filling in the colours ‘live’ in front of us as a big bombastic ballad plays composed with the intention of ‘painting a musical picture of Brazil.’ The song and the drawing fit together nicely enough (some bananas become Toucans…it is fun) and it is all going well…Until… José Carioca the parrot shows up to educate Donald Duck. And me. And I hate being educated.
I suppose a propaganda film designed for a specific purpose was never going to beat out entertainment free from political agenda in the Disney war for my affections. So the best I can say about ‘Saludos Amigos’ is it is an interesting product from a very strange time in history. For a studio that took so many risks it is very nicey-nice and safe and the result is almost funny.
It is pretty much exactly like those old fashioned educational films that were parodied so well in ‘The Simpsons’ (Sand…Sand…SAND!) that almost seemed like they were trying to get you to give up and declare the idea of original and entertaining art dead. Had this been several minutes longer, I might have had to do just that…Onwards to what didn’t work…This could take me some time…
What Doesn’t Work:
It occurred to me just now that you could decide, out of curiosity, to look up this film and learn a bit about South American culture in the 40’s, come away satisfied and wonder what my problem is. Am I so uninterested in anthropology? Do I roll my eyes at anything unlike my own environment? What have I got against a chain smoking Brazilian parrot? (Ok…So he was allowed to smoke and Goofy wasn’t? What is this madness?)
So let me be clear: I accept they had a job they were being paid to do. A job they needed as they had no money. Plus the aspiration of the film, while bizarre to me, are not malicious. So it could be that my cringing at the Narrator’s desperate assertion that the symptoms of altitude fever that tourists often experience when approaching the dizzying heights of Lake Titicaca are ‘fascinating!’ is my problem and mine alone. Perhaps my attention span is too short. Or maybe…Maybe this is a pathetic and patronising attempt to understand other cultures.
While on the subject of narration, and get comfy because this issue is going to come up A LOT during the war films, the use of voice over is horrifically abused throughout ‘Saludos Amigos.’ Any chance each section has of charming me fades faster than an idea in the head of Paris Hilton when the voice of Fred Shields strikes up again to tell me exactly what is happening in the story AND what he thinks of it.
In Pedro’s story, the one about the little aeroplane trying to deliver the mail, it is almost funny how the narrator fails to be objective. When Pedro gets caught up in the storm the narrator is so invested that he sounds genuinely distressed as he cries: ‘Get above the storm! Climb Pedro! Save yourself!’ I don’t have time to feel concerned for Pedro because I am a little bit worried about the mental health of Mr Shields. Did they have SAG back then? Who knows how long he had been locked in that recording booth without any water or contact with his loved ones.
Like I said, it was sort of funny at times but this was not a one time joke or device: The voice of Fred Shields interacts with Donald Duck, Goofy and talks over all the live action images too. In fact, he never stops talking.
Let me be clear: One of my biggest pet peeves is bad use of narration. I watch a lot of television and films and I see it a lot. I am all the more aware of it because several of my favourite films in the whole world use the device so well. So it is not that I hate voice overs period. When used successfully it can enhance how you experience a film but it should never, ever, replace the story.
The lazy technique of having a voice cheerfully inform me that the cartoonist found the various picturesque locations of South America ‘a pleasure to draw’ was like nails on a blackboard to me. If the cartoonist was indeed artistically inspired by the trip SHOW ME. Don’t TELL ME. Give me a story, with a plot, characters and beautiful art and I will decide if it moves me. But instead I just have to take his word for it that this was a life changing trip for everyone. Because the evidence is nowhere to be found in the soulless husk of ‘Saludos Amigos’
Would you like to see people doing an old time square dance? It is as fun as it sounds. Have you always wondered what a gaucho wears? Well then man, does Goofy have a cartoon for you. What do Argentinians cook when they have a barbecue? I have already forgotten. Can you control a llama using a flute? I highly doubt it but it is a cartoon about an angry duck. Are animators allowed to take photos in Chile? No. Awkwardly they never explain why…They just show you a cartoon about a plane. So all of these questions and more are finally, sort of, kind of, literally danced around and a little bit answered thanks to a goodwill trip to South America paid for by the United States Department of State. 42 minutes. 42 minutes of my life that I could have spent watching 2 classic episodes of ‘Arrested Development.’
Apparently citizens of the USA learned that South Americans are more cosmopolitan than they had previously realised. According to the one article I read (Hey I’m not getting paid for this!) most of them were shocked to learn Brazilians have restaurants, bars and fun. So I guess that is something. I have yet to learn how the film was received in South America. But how was it received by me? Have you figured it out yet or should I make a film with a man reading this review out loud as I type angrily on my laptop and dance the Samba with a badly synced Portuguese spouting parrot?
I still think people are prone to look at something old and declare it ‘excellent’ just because it is historically significant. This is the only excuse I can think of for why this is currently sitting at an 80% rating down at rotten tomatoes. Even fans of Donald and Goofy may find themselves struggling to settle in to this film and it is over so quickly you could find yourself asking: ‘What was the point in that?’ The answer is more interesting than the outcome folks. Leave this one in the vault where it belongs.
Well at least that propaganda hell is over…what’s next?
What’s that overused narrator? The sequel to ‘Saludos Amigos?’ That is double the length of the original?
I need a new hobby.
Disney Nightmare Inducer Count: 1
Half a point for the mountain coming to life during Pedro’s flight (it would have been a lot better if the narrator had refrained from telling me it was supposed to be startling) and another half point for being the first Disney film so far that I nearly switched off and didn’t finish. Totalling = 1.
Perhaps my ill will towards the film is being stretched unkindly here, but I wasn’t impressed with the soundtrack, despite the fact it continued the Disney streak of getting nominated for all the musical Oscars.
The songs are not performed by characters (at one point you are lead to think Goofy has a surprising vocal talent like Susan Boyle or that Chocolate Rain kid, but it turns out he is miming to a record player) so, again, I was left feeling a lack of connection between the music and the thin effort at story telling. Also this was a time period where warbling was very much the thing and it is not a vocal style I am that keen on.
So not much to choose from…But I am going to have to go with ‘Aquarela do Brazil’ as the art in this bit briefly brought me back from the brink. Before cruelly shoving me off again. Warning: This version isn’t the one I originally posted and isn’t actually the edition I watched in the movie. I would stop watching around the two minute mark. After the toucan/bananas you have seen the best the song has to offer anyway cause not long after that fucking parrot comes in.
That is Disney for you. They give, they take away.
Donald Duck is a lecherous creep who has taken too many drugs…I wish I was kidding. The Three Caballeros (1944)