|(drawn animation, some live action)
The Cold Blooded Penguin (ss) William Roberts
The Flying Gauchito (ss), Norm Ferguson and Eric Larson
as well as several unnamed short sequences
Pure animated anarchy, with a Latin beat. Disney feature animation doesn’t get much nuttier than this often overlooked gem, a wild romp through Latin America with Donald Duck, Joe Carioca and Panchito. The advent of World War II sealed off most of Europe from the rest of the world, forcing the United States to look elsewhere for economic partners. The U.S. government instituted a “Good Neighbor Policy” with much of Latin America, paving the way for an influx of South of the Border culture. Walt Disney, his wife, and a group of studio artists made a government-sponsored trip to Latin America, returning with the materials for two films, 1943’s Saludos Amigos and 1945’s The Three Caballeros.
The Three Caballeros has no real linear story, instead revolving around a birthday celebration for Donald. The feisty duck unwraps a movie projector and a few film reels, which contain the animated shorts “Aves Raras” (about a penguin who can’t stand the cold) and “Little Gauchito” (about a boy and his flying burro). Donald next unwraps a book about Brazil. When he opens the pages, out pops parrot pal Joe Carioca, a holdover from Saludos Amigos.
Joe sings of his Brazilian homeland, then takes Donald on a journey into the pages of the Brazilian book. Inside, Donald and Joe take a live-action tour of the country, and Donald falls madly in love with singer Aurora Miranda (Carmen’s sister). After a live-action/animated production number, the Latin lovely finally kisses the lovestruck duck, sending Donald off on a trippy fantasy of surreal images.
Donald’s final present brings out Mexican rooster Panchito, who leads into the zany song, “The Three Caballeros.” Panchito introduces his feathered friends to a few Mexican customs, including a Christmas celebration and the origin of the piñata. Donald swats the piñata, opening a storybook history of Mexico. Panchito loads his friends up on a serape-turned-flying-carpet and floats them away into the storybook.
The trio visits a fiesta, then travels to Acapulco Beach, where Donald chases a group of beach beauties including singer Dora Luz. As she sings “You Belong to My Heart,” Donald again trips the light fantastic, culminating in a dance number with Carmen Molina and a host of animated cacti. The final sequence is a mock bullfight with Donald as matador. Joe and Panchito stuff the faux bull with fireworks, leading to a tremendous explosion. The fireworks spell out “FIN,” as the three caballeros reprise “The Three Caballeros.”
The mixture of live action and animation in The Three Caballeros was miles ahead of Disney’s earlier experiments in The Reluctant Dragon. Cartoons talked with, danced with and even dive bombed human characters, often seamlessly. The animation was also revolutionary, freed from the realism and standard storytelling of Disney’s earlier features. Guns sang, Donald turned into a balloon, humans changed to roosters, etc.
The unbridled, random wackiness made the film a commercial success, but kept it from enjoying the popularity of the more straightforward Disney classics. Still, The Three Caballeros remained on the market, and its availability as an inexpensive 16mm rental made it a lifesaver for overworked Spanish teachers in need of a break. Eventually, the film found a home on video, where its chaotic fun could be enjoyed by a whole new generation.