Where Saludos Amigos had a somewhat tight plot about the world of Latin America, here we have Donald celebrating his birthday….and Jose and Panchito happen to show up? The first twenty minutes of the movie is Donald getting mysterious gifts (might it have something to do with the fact his birthday is Friday the 13th?) that open up into shorts with a faint connection to Latin America. It’s these opening cartoons that make The Three Caballeros so fun. We start with narration from Disney favorite Sterling Holloway who tells the tale of Pablo, a little penguin in the Arctic who wants to live on a tropical island.
Pablo’s story is the best, and I loved every second of it. It’s reminiscent of the old Disney shorts, and is classic Disney. You have a concise story following Pablo’s attempt to seek a warmer climate, various pratfalls as he tries to get to said island, and a moral about people never being satisfied. The humor from Pablo’s story is genuine, especially once his iceberg home starts melting, and he’s forced to save his bathtub. Once he gets to the island he discovers he misses the cold. It’s short, simple, and to the point! The second story follows a gaucho (I thought we might be seeing the return of Gaucho Goofy from last week but no) who tries to hunt the wild ostrich and finds a flying donkey. Similar to Pablo’s story, I must have missed how these stories tie into Latin America. The gaucho story has the narrator (not Sterling Holloway) take on a typical Latin accent, and features a South American locale, but Pablo does not. It just seems that Disney had a lot of animation for this Latin American project and cut what they could into two films regardless of story. Anyway, the gaucho story is sweet and has some strong comedy, particularly when the narrator interacts with the on-screen character and starts changing the story on him.
After that we return to the Fantasia formula that these package films keep rehashing. The introduction of Jose has him performing a song about Baia, Brasil. The song is catchy but the animation is not as crisp or detailed as it was in Fantasia, and aside from the pretty city there’s nothing to keep your interest. It’s a fairly lengthy segment that eventually introduces live action actors dancing with the animated characters. It’s certainly a leap for Disney in 1944 (well before it was perfected in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), but I continue to ask how these films count as animation considering they have lengthy live action segments? Anyway, the live action dancing is a fun gimmick but becomes tiresome after a while. Especially once the final 20 minutes revolve solely around live-action. I mentioned above the live action not being perfected with regards to human/toon interactions; once the characters start engaging with the landscape, sailing via “magic serape” (yeah the usage of the language is irksome and cliché), it looks far better.
The arrival of Panchito not only adds another character who twists the story in another direction, but also ups the nuisance factor. I’m sorry but I found Panchito’s loud character as annoying as the bird that speaks gibberish throughout. Panchito’s story about Las Posadas (Christmas) is a beautiful segment no matter what. The animation is simple, static drawings that are breathtaking in how much emotion is conveyed. The story of Christmas in Mexico is a favorite of mine so I loved hearing it retold. I do wish maybe a part of this was animated, or at least fleshed out. It feels like an afterthought within the narrative and quickly forgotten to have Donald go ga-ga over girls.
The final twenty or so minutes are fairly boring in my opinion. The depiction of Mexico falls on showcasing them as sombrero wearing dancers with no connection to the characters. They literally dance for the rest of the film! There’s no exploration of the culture like there was in Saludos Amigos. The final ten minutes is surreal, and boring as all hell, once Donald apparently goes crazy from girl fever. I really didn’t get the ending of this film and failed to understand how it meant to connect back to Donald’s birthday, or Latin America.
The Three Caballeros definitely starts out strong, and has some segments worth seeking out. The story of Pablo, the little gaucho, and Las Posadas, are fantastic. The first half of the film is set up well. Unfortunately, the latter half feels lazy and has little connection to a narrative or Latin America.
Next Week: We enter into one of two films that feature stories revolving around contemporary music with Make Mine Music.
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The Three Caballeros
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.