Following the surprising worldwide success of “Saludos Amigos”, Disney put out another collection of animated shorts with a Latin theme. The result is a far superior effort called “The Three Caballeros”.
The premise, though a film of this sort hardly needs one, is that it’s Donald Duck’s birthday. He gets a bunch of gifts from his buddies in Latin America, and the first one he opens is a film projector. With the help of yet another unnecessary narrator, we segue right into the first two animated shorts. The first is about a penguin who wants to move to a tropical climate. It’s dull and relies heavily on Sterling Holloway (the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh) to narrate. The second short is a little better, telling an amusing little fable about a boy who captures a flying donkey. Again, this short requires a narrator to tell it, making it weak in terms of pure storytelling. It fares better than the penguin short however, since in this case the narrator is the protagonist and is therefore an unreliable narrator and the animators have some fun with that.
That said, both shorts feel like rejects from “Saludos Amigos” or some other packaged collection, and only serve to pad out this movie’s length. Maybe it needed to be at least an hour? I don’t know, but they feel out of place. Once both shorts end, we are reintroduced to José Carioca, the Brazilian cigar smoking parrot from “Saludos Amigos”. Much like the previous film, his appearance here signals the start of good things. Once he makes his debut, the narrator vanishes back into the ether and we are taken on a whirlwind tour of Brazil and later Mexico, meeting a rooster named Panchito Pistoles.
The first two shorts aside, “The Three Caballeros” is an excellent animated movie. It takes advantage of the music and color of the places they try to feature here, and the humor is now entirely placed on the capable shoulders of Donald Duck. He’s completely girl crazy and loses his senses every time a woman appears. Speaking of, this was a year for live action experimentation with animation (In MGM’s “Anchors Away”, Gene Kelly danced with Jerry Mouse). In the Baía segment, Donald and José are thrust into a musical number with live action performers, blending in and out of the background as real actors dance and sing with them.
It’s an early attempt at such a combination for Disney, not nearly as seamless or sophisticated as it would later be in movies like “Mary Poppins” and “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, but it adds a great deal of variety and is a valiant attempt to play around with what they could do at the time. This combination is frequented throughout “The Three Caballeros”, as Donald and co. visit various places in Mexico and dance with all the pretty ladies.
The last segment goes completely out there as Donald falls into a strange starscape where a singer’s head combines with flowers and he stumbles around through a kaleidoscopic series of settings and backdrops.
For what it is, “The Three Caballeros” is a fun and interesting little collection from Disney. It throws away the dull travelogue experience from “Saludos Amigos” for a more character based experience. As it turns out, Donald, José, and Panchito don’t need anyone but themselves to entertain an audience. The music is great, the animation is charming and experimental, and it makes a good case for the diverse cultures of Latin America.