The war time theatrical releases from the Walt Disney Animation Studios were a collection of shorts, as opposed to feature length narratives. The first of these was “Saludos Amigos”, which is essentially a travelogue detailing what the Disney animators were checking out as they toured South America. They stop in various countries like Chile, Argentina, and Brazil, providing animated commentary shorts for each. That’s pretty much it and it only lasts about 45 minutes.
What’s too bad is that the shorts, with one exception, are pretty weak, and that’s including the appearances of both Donald Duck and Goofy, two of the most popular Disney characters at the time. The movie provides live action documentary footage of the animators visiting each country (Walt Disney himself in a few), and these are still interesting from a historical perspective. You get to see shots of life in South America in the 1940s, which is interesting in and of itself. The shorts that each country showcases however, feel lacking in charm and comedy.
The first has Donald being a tourist in Lake Titicaca and getting into trouble with his llama, but it’s all done with an overly excitable narrator who feels the need to explain everything you’re already watching. It grows old fast, and he’s present for all the other shorts but the finale.
The second short is set in Chile, following the life of living airplanes (why Disney ever thinks this is a good idea eludes me). Pedro, a child mail carrier has to fly over a mountain to get the mail. It’s fairly dull and the narrator is especially irritating in this one. The next one brings in Goofy to animate the gauchos of Argentina, but again it’s not especially funny. There are maybe one or two good jokes, but as a Goofy short it’s not one of the best.
Where the movie becomes truly worth watching (or perhaps only this segment), is when we get to visit Brazil. This was clearly the country the animators enjoyed the most. We are introduced to the classic song, “Aquarela do Brasil” by Ary Barroso (a fairly new hit at the time), and they animate the world being animated with watercolors while set to music. This is the short that the entire movie was waiting to show. It’s colorful, creative, and perfectly set to the rhythm of the samba. Not to mention, the narrator finally shut the hell up. It breathes new life into the entire film, perfectly capturing the essence of what they were trying to do.
Donald reappears here and is introduced to José Carioca, the dapper parrot from Brazil. He’s a likeable fellow with a charming design, and he’s only too happy to show Donald Duck his country. This is how the entire movie should have been handled. Even the explanations of the culture sound better when they come from a cartoon that exists within the setting, as opposed to a stuffy disembodied voice. It’s also fun to see these cartoons drink and smoke, something they've been prohibited from doing for years.
As a whole, “Saludos Amigos” is a fairly dull collection of colorful but uninspired shorts. It ends on a very high note, however, earning a recommendation.