Toon Talk: Classic Caballero Collection
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by Kirby C. Holt
Classic Caballero Collection:
Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros
MPAA Rating: Not rated / G
Just in time for Cinco de Mayo, Disney has re-released two of its minor animated pictures, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, in a one disc Classic Caballero Collection that sadly leaves much to be desired. Hardcore Disney fans who have been waiting for restored, uncensored versions of these two early “package features” will have to wait, as this edition merely repackages the previous “Gold Collection” transfers onto a single disc (granted, at a two-for-one price). And to add insult to injury, the original trailers weren’t even carried over from those earlier editions.
It’s a mixed bag for purists, as both films are presented here in Dolby Digital 5.1, as opposed to the mono track on the original DVD releases. However, both films are in desperate need of restoration. Saludos doesn’t look too bad, as a good portion of the film is the original 16 mm footage of Walt and his staff’s South American visit, so any graininess is not only expected, it adds to the needed historical context of the (barely feature length) forty-two minute program. On the other hand, Caballeros should be put on the critical condition list. Murky visuals mar the carefully chosen and essential color palette of the film, and dirt, scratches and other debris are clearly visible throughout. It’s a shame, as Caballeros, with its bizarre sequences and flights of whimsy, is easily the most curiously odd -- but immensely watchable -- of all of the Disney animated features.
Born out of the Disney Studios involvement with the war effort in the early 1940’s, Saludos Amigos was commissioned by the US State Department to improve relations with our Central and South American neighbors (hence the “hello friends” title … as in “hello friends, don‘t join the Nazis”). Walt and a staff of writers, artists and composers flew down to Rio, as it were, to soak in the local colors, music and cultures of the various Latin American regions as inspiration for future cartoons and features. The initial result was Saludos, which had its world premiere in Rio de Janeiro in 1942.
Basically consisting of a travelogue of the group’s journeys, the film features four animated segments interspersed throughout. First up is Lake Titicaca, wherein we find Donald Duck (representing the average tourist/viewer of the time) as he visits the land of the Incas and encounters a playful llama. Inspired by their flight over the Andes Mountains, Pedro is a junior mail plane in a “Little Train That Could”-type story. Another familiar face shows up in El Gaucho Goofy, which relocates the (now not smoking) Texan cowboy to the planes of Argentina for this segment, basically another of the Goof’s How to … series. Closing out the program is Aquarela do Brasil (“Watercolor of Brazil"), which introduces Donald (and us) to the playful parrot José Carioca, who takes him (and us) on the town … to a samba beat, of course. Featuring the colorful, surrealistic style that we would see much more of in Caballeros, this section is the only time the film really comes to life. Otherwise, Saludos (like the earlier feature, The Reluctant Dragon) is basically a movie about the making of itself, something that just a few years later would have just appeared on the Disneyland nighttime television show.
Surprisingly (in retrospect), Saludos was a big hit, necessitating a follow up: The Three Caballeros (which had its world premiere in Mexico City in 1944). However, aside from their humble origins and a few superficial details, these two films couldn’t be any more different. Where Saludos is a thin documentation of some nice folks traveling through exotic lands, Caballeros (the first feature film to combine live action characters with animated ones) literally bursts with outrageousness. You’ll be wondering what exactly the artists found in those foreign ports to “inspire” them to exceed even Fantasia-levels of surrealism.
Given something resembling somewhat of a plot, Caballeros begins innocently enough, with Donald receiving a batch of birthday presents from his friends in Latin America. First are a couple of movies showing the exotic birds of the region, including Pedro the Cold-Blooded Penguin, the pesky Aracuan Bird (who would return to pester the duck in future appearances) and, most unusual, the flying burrito (no, not the tasty snack from Taco Bell, a winged donkey). Via a magical pop-up book, Don’s old pal José Carioca returns (still puffing on his cigar … after all, unlike Goofy, he never became a corporate symbol), to take him to “Bahia”, and this is where the movie takes off on a trip … as in trippy; the capitol city of Salvador literally pulses to a samba beat, and two male dancers transform into fighting roosters (!?).
Then, bursting out from a piñata, Panchito shows up, a sharp-shooting rooster from Mexico, launching the threesome into their classic title song production number. The trio hops aboard a flying serape for a tour of Panchito’s native land, where Donald gets an eyeful of the “hot stuff” on Acapulco Beach (this duck was quite the wolf back in the day). Dora Luz pops up to croon the future standard “You Belong to My Heart” to the love struck Donald … and then things get really weird. What follows is a psychedelic, neon-colored fever dream with Busby Berkeley bathing beauties, a chorus line of dancing cacti and a very randy leading duck, leading up to an explosive finale. This one is just too weird not to miss.