The Three Caballeros (1944) Review
What do I know about the film?
Latin American music. Disney. The venn diagram is not immediately clear. And yet in 1944 a sequel to the kind-of hit ‘Saludos Amigos’ (See previous review. Seriously. Nobody read that one. If I have to watch them all you have to read them all guys) was released, premièring in Mexico City and featuring Brazilian entertainer Aurora Miranda. And Donald Duck.
This was both the second of the War/Package films of this era and the second Good Will project designed to improve relations between the USA and South America although this one is nowhere near as transparently focused on this task. Basically, the message is cleverly hidden among many, many scenes of Donald flirting with live action Latin American singers. You have to look super hard but the propaganda is there. It is just considerably less overt than in ‘Saludos Amigos.’
So was the world excited about the sequel? No. The reviews were mixed to say the least. Oddly enough, their main complaint seemed to be that it too was too focused on being technologically dazzling and that was confusing for audiences. Yeah…that is…Well…I suppose for the era in which it was made that is not an unfounded issue with the picture. But this is the future right now. And feeling overwhelmed by the artistic ‘razzle dazzle’ was not exactly the root explanation for my cognitive state after sitting through ‘The Three Caballeros’
Did it makes international stars of the people featured? Well…No. Not the real people anyway. But the feathered friends of Mr Duck, Jose and Panchito, still greet confused and frightened toddlers at Disney World even if they are not iconic Disney creations outside of South America. Which they are not. I was not familiar with either of them prior to this project and I am guessing most Westerners would equally struggle to remember them although I understand they went on to star in their own cartoons in Brazil.
Did I see it as a child?
Nopety nope. My Mum had 3 rules: Be aware of the needs of others, be true to yourself and when Donald Duck trips balls, stay the fuck away from him.
Oh this one is a doozie. See, it is Donald Duck’s birthday. And guess what? He has some presents! And those presents contain…like…the film. In several distinct sections. Sigh.
Section 1: Pablo the penguin lives in the South Pole. He would sooner live somewhere hot. So he sets out for Punta Tombo.
Section 2: A kid makes friends with a flying donkey in Uruguay. Because, why not? Nobody is paying attention they are too busy trying not to die in a war.
Section 3: This is where it starts to get weird. Think about that. It starts getting weird AFTER the flying donkey and the penguin who wants a tan. Donald and Jose hang out with some Brazilian celebrities inside a pop up book. There is plenty of dancing and it turns out Donald is something of a lech when it comes to real life women.
Section 4: We have a new character. He is a Mexican rooster named Panchito, He is in no way a crude Mexican stereotype although he is introduced in a big hat, shooting guns and trying to get Donald to whack a pinatia…And this was supposed to IMPROVE relationships between the USA and Mexico??? Ok…
Section 5: The newly formed three caballeros go on a tour of Mexico. Donald is once again a lecherous creep cause we hadn’t seen enough of a cartoon duck chasing women around a sunny location.
Section 6: The ultimate drug trip. I can’t even begin to explain what happens here…But I know the only way to remove the power trauma has over you is to process and normalise the memory so I will do my best to describe it later. You won’t believe me though.
While the package films of this era insist on overusing the ‘comedy narrator’ shtick that pervaded so many old school cartoons (not trusting the audience to get the joke, the helpful voice over explains it. It happens a lot and drives me nuts) ‘The Three Caballeros’ has one small thing working in its favour during the first story: The narrator is Disney legend Sterling Holloway. Name not ring a bell? How about if I said…the voice of Roquefort? Kaa? No? How about…The Cheshire Cat? Winnie the Pooh? Yeah. I reckon we are on the same page now. If none of those characters are familiar to you…Why are you reading these??? Do you like my personality? I doubt it. Nobody does.
Well anyway, his voice is delightful and he actually brings the story of the sun starved little penguin to life a bit as he has a natural knack for comic timing. I say a bit. Some of the jokes are still overcooked. One of the runners where Pablo has to keep setting off on his journey again and his little send off party gets smaller every time is a nice visual gag that is spelled out unnecessarily. (Look! His party diminishes each time! LAUGH! IT IS NOT LIKE THERE IS A WAR ON!) But it is difficult not to smile when the voice of the Winnie the Pooh explains the little stove belonging to Pablo goes by the name ‘Smokey Joe.’
So yeah, part one is not bad. And the next section about the flying donkey has some nice moments too. It is supposedly narrated by the little boy in the story and that at least means the voice over has a purpose. Sort of. Basically the kid is hunting for Ostriches and instead finds a: ‘Donkey Bird’ who ‘didn’t seem bashful’ * cue Donkey moving his eyebrows up and down in a defiantly flirty manner * So they become mates and decide to make money on the races by hiding the fact that the donkey has wings. The narrator informs us that Uruguayan citizens like to ‘gamble away their pesos’ so it was a natural idea after finding a flying…wait. Hold the fucking phone. This film was supposed to…IMPROVE relationships between…Ok. I will buy it. Good work America?
Sadly our heroes get found out and only just escape. Then the story ends with our ever cheerful disembodied voice informing us: ‘Neither him nor me was ever seen again as long as we lived!’ Jesus. At around this point it occurred to me that ‘The Three Caballeros’ had largely abandoned the educational patronising tone of ‘Saludos Amigos’ and plumped instead for bafflingly eccentric. And…I sort of liked it.
See the thing is…This is not a good film. Whenever it does anything good or funny it seems to go out of its way to show you something boring or pointless to make up for it. But it is different. It is odd. And if you decide you want to get some friends and…err…dabble…in recreational relaxation…I think you will enjoy it. And be afraid. And entranced.
I watched it by myself. I regret that now. To experience Donald Duck crow in a low rasp: ‘Come to Papa’ as he chases half naked women around a Mexican beach is to be truly alone in the world. Like our man Donald…I needed some buddies. Some pals. Some amigos. Some…caballeros.
What Doesn’t Work:
So coming from the perspective of someone who watched it alone and sober…The agenda of ‘Saludos Amigos’ is not completely abandoned meaning I had to tolerate the ‘shut up and learn’ segments as before. And kids…They haven’t got any better. For example did you know there are a shit ton of coffee beans in Brazil? You did? Well fuck you. We are telling you anyway!
I tried to care about the birds. I did. But man, I really, really didn’t. Although it was worth the agonising lectures to hear the occasional moment of craziness like when the narrative voice growls in approval about Toucans making love. You could yawn and miss it. And I reckon that was what the overworked underpaid employees down at Disney were counting on.
How else can you explain just how much of this film is taken up with Donald Duck following and groping giggling Hispanic women? Seriously. Jose takes Donald to Baia in Brazil (after asking him about 87 times if we would like to see it, to the point that I was actually screaming at the screen: ‘He said he wants to go you little bastard get on with it!’ while tears of frustration ran down my face) and we get a very long, over stuffed and poorly constructed segment of them enjoying the night life. Like in ‘Saludos Amigos’. Only longer. Keep in mind this was a long, long time before ‘Who Framed Rodger Rabbit?’ meaning the people/cartoons interacting is not exactly seamless. It looked bad to me. And Donald falls in love with the Brazilian entertainer Ms Miranda as she lip synchs badly to some rhythm-tastic tune. Later he chases some women in bathing suits after spying on them through a telescope. And then goes gaga for singer Dora Luz. All the while breathing and laughing like a creeper. Did you know ducks have penises like corkscrews? After watching Donald Duck get turned on for the 8th time, it became a personal challenge to forget. I suppose it is his birthday after all. Maybe I should cut the little guy some slack.
For the bit about Mexican culture we get our third caballero who says things like ‘Caramba!’ and ‘You’ll find us beneath our sombreros!’ while shooting his pistols. Disney. Quietly offending nations of the world since the 40’s. Although his musical number, ‘The Three Caballeros’ is actually very good…After it ends all is madness. The bored animators clearly just lost their shit and decided to make Pink Elephants on Parade Part 2: This Time it is Personal. It is like ‘Apocalypse Now’ in animation form. The Horror…
Why is Donald’s beak a piccolo? Why are they talking about black magic? Improving relations between nations? Are you sure? Another singing lady…Wait why is that singer in a flower? What is with the floating lips? Why is a voice whispering ‘Purdy Girls…’ at me? WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH ANYTHING???
Donald’s love/drug trip is only one of several mind bending moments that I just couldn’t handle while watching this film. Nothing that happens is of any real consequence and by the time the film ended I had ran out of ways to express my confusion. You could have told me anything and I would have accepted it calmly. Because once you have watched Donald and a strange woman do a suggestive dance with some cactus plants you no longer fear the unknown. You have seen the unknown. And it has a corkscrew penis.
In all seriousness…I am trying with these package films but I really, really miss the coherent, well drawn, well scored stories. In short: I miss the Disney classics and I can’t get back to them fast enough. So far I can see very little of value in the war time films. They are messy, badly written, mostly performed poorly, vapid and so without a point. That is what I really can’t take. Endless sequences of nothing, no charisma, no spark…’The Three Caballeros’ improves upon its predecessor by at least being weird. But it is not enough to get me to watch it again.
Despite the fact it is missing all of the classic ingredients that make a Disney film sparkle ‘The Three Caballeros’ has the potential to become an underground cult classic. It is directionless, mystifying and as campy a film as 1940’s Disney could afford to make. And for that alone it might be worth seeking it out. But bring friends and…fun. You know the kind of fun I mean. I take no responsibility for the quality of your evening but I bet you anything it will get you through it.
Disney Nightmare Inducer Count: 1
The whole Donald crazy, pervy, druggy trip. I am counting it as 1 even though it takes up a huge percentage of the running time and will only lead to a nightmare if you manage to get to sleep in the first place.
Now see this is difficult. The best is clearly the title track ‘The Three Caballeros’ as it is a highlight of the film both musically and animation wise. But…The song ‘You Belong to my Heart’ (So suited for crooning Bing Crosby would go on to record it) is the number that leads into Donald’s trippy meltdown and it would be remiss of me not to share that sequence with you…Feel free to bill me for your psychological treatment. It will be worth it for me to feel less alone:
I am aware the link is no longer working and I am both sad and sorry about that. However I have yet to find another video clip online that truly captures what I had to sit through, I am starting to think I dreamt it, so I am going to leave it for now but I do hope to update it one day so you can all come into the Madhouse with me.
A Whale sings opera and some hats fall in love…Welcome to Make Mine Music (1946)