Ay Carumba!

On the wings of an avian ass, let us flutter south to view a duet that surely inspired Terry Gilliam's Brazil...

Saludos Amigos

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 5

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 2.5

Characters/Characterization/Voice-Acting: 5

Art Direction/Design: 5.5

Themes, Archetypes, and Artistic Interpretation: 5.5

From Wiry:

Full disclosure: The Disney package films, with the exception of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, were never part of my formative years in the same way as the more cohesive works like Cinderella or 101 Dalmatians. This lack of nostalgia working in their favor makes things rather tricky. I think, to generalize broadly, Disney is the master of the full-length animated feature, and Warner Brothers the masters of the animated short. Lacking the hilarious cruelty of the majority of Looney Tunes shorts, Disney shorts tend to fall into the categories of either sleep-inducing wholesomeness or incoherent animated masturbation.

So, in short, boo. Hiss.** Saludos Amigos, on the whole, munches. I find the condescending 50's-style narrator ("Here's the missus, taking a pie out of the oven. Ha ha, careful there, little lady! Wouldn't want to burn those dainty fingers!") to be intolerable, and he permeates all the shorts. We at least get some respite when Donald shows up, but, for the most part, it's just Joe McVanilla talking the whole damn time.

I should pause for a moment to acknowledge the most interesting part of Saludos Amigos, which is the circumstances of its creation. The U.S. government, recognizing the popularity of Mickey Mouse in Latin America, financed a trip there for the animators to gain some inspiration. They then cranked out Saludos Amigos, their first package film. I can't blame them for doing several more of these things - they were quick to make, and helped pad the Disney coffers before they cranked out some high-budget hits in the 50's. But anyway, the idea was that Saludos Amigos would be shown around Latin America as part of the buddy project, a sort of soft-glove intervention to discourage South America from taking a dip in the Nazi pool.

Well, anyway, the film has four parts, sandwiched with a lot of live-action shots documenting the journey of the animators from country to country. There's a lot of talk about the exotic natives, yadda yadda, but it does work hard to err on the side of respectful yet curious documentation rather than caricature. The first section is basically like Turistas but with Donald Duck in place of buxom American blondes and a surly llama in place of teen-carving sadists. The second bit centers around Pedro the airplane. Full disclosure: I find anthropomorphic means of transportation (i.e. Thomas the Tank Engine and his ilk) creepy in the bad way. They raise a lot of strange questions, like "Why is he carrying the mail satchel on his wing-arm instead of shoving it up his ass like a normal plane would?" Candelabras and teapots are kosher, but a fully-mechanized plane sneezing just gives me the willies. And, the villain in this short is a mountain. That's right, a grumpy-faced mountain.

Then we have the third bit, in which a cowboy Goofy learns about being a gaucho (an Argentinian cowboy). Zzz. And last, but not least, we have the "Watercolor of Brazil" segment, featuring some quality animation, Jose Carioca, and this song in its original form (you may also recognize it from every trailer of the past year). But there's some fun samba bits, which will be pounded into the ground in the next film we're discussing in this two-fer, the illustrious, the glorious...

The Three Caballeros (1944)

Soundtrack/Score/Music: 5.5

Story/Screenplay/Narrative: 4.5

Characters/Characterization/Voice-Acting: 5.5

Art Direction/Design: 7

Themes, Archetypes, and Artistic Interpretation: 5.5

From RM:

That's right, my most learned colleague and I are each getting our own little section this week. Mostly, this is because these two films are startlingly similar. The Three Caballeros is, in essence, a repackaged package film. Take a moment, embrace the dada, and let's move on.

Congrats to Three Caballeros (cowboys, for those of you who don't habla) for at least attempting a plot for this package film: Donald Duck opens presents from his Latin American friends, which are basically cleverly disguised vignettes. Aaaaaand, plot done.

To it's credit, this movie resolves a lot of the problems with Saludos Amigos. There is a plot, and the shorts are, across the board, more entertaining. The first, the story of a penguin that hates the cold (I know, wacky, right?!) and escapes to the Galapagos is narrated by Sterling "Don't call me Pooh Bear" Holloway, and is actually sweet and funny. The second, the story of a winged donkey, is fairly insipid, but when compared to the plane cartoon from Saludos, it's Citizen Kane. After that, we're reintroduced to Jose Carioca, the wise-cracking chain-smoking Gigolo from Sao Paolo. It should be noted here that since his creation in the previous film, he had become quite the national icon in Brazil. Also, his short introduces a fairly interesting part of 3C, which is its very solid synthesis of live-action and animation, something it would later explore, unfortunately, in So Dear To My Heart and Song of the South. But in this, it's actually quite good.

Anyhow, then comes sassy Mexican parrot, films of various Mexican dances, Donald chasing tail in Acapulco (I shit you not), and a surreal* dream sequence of Donald... chasing tail. Also, the music is excellent, and actually culturally appropriate. What a refreshing change of pace.

It should be noted that, as the Disney package films go, this one is quite watchable. But, not unlike Saludos, there isn't a whole lot to say about it.

* From Wiry:

Sorry to butt in, chum - feel free to throw some dirt on Saludos if you like. The surreal dream sequence bit is definitely quizzical-look-inducing, but, when you think about things like the pink elephants sequence in Dumbo or the heffalumps and woozles bit in Winnie the Pooh, or even the overlong bear-love song in Fun and Fancy Free, you do start to see a Disney that relishes borderline-disturbing sequences of mutable creatures. That is to say, surreal dreamlike sequences. This is as good a time as any to mention "Destino," the Walt Disney/Salvador Dali collaboration of 1945 that went unfinished until very recently. So many people are surprised by the thought of Captain Melting-Lobster-Phallus in cahoots with wholesome Uncle Walt, but Walt certainly seems to have enjoyed using animation to dabble in surrealism himself.

** From RM:
Well, since you asked....

I'll take a moment to defend the package films. Granted that, to date, the lowest score we have given (and probably will give across the board) currently belongs to a package film, the abomination that is/was Fun & Fancy Free, I argue that there is a distinct advantage to the package film: variety. Some of the shorts (Bongo, that stupid effing plane from Saludos) are among the greatest pieces of tripe known to tripedom, but at least, as long as you haven't sworn a blood oath to watch the whole thing beginning to end, you can skip around to the good stuff. In abominations like, oh, say Treasure Planet, every step down the connected narrative is darker, more unpleasant, and more dissatisfying than the last one, and you know that you aren't going to suddenly cut to Donald learning how to samba. It's the same shit you watched 10 minutes ago. So yes, the full-length narrative film does have more time to explore interesting plot and characters, but its bungles are far more difficult to survive. 100 times out of 100, I'd watch Saludos Amigos before I'd watch Treasure Planet.

Saludos Amigos Final Grade: D

The Three Caballeros Final Grade: C

Los Rankings:

1.) The Lion King
2.) Sleeping Beauty
3.) The Hunchback of Notre Dame
4.) Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs
5.) Lady and The Tramp
6.) The Great Mouse Detective
7.) Pinocchio
8.) The Jungle Book
9.) The Black Cauldron
10.) Mulan
11.) The Three Caballeros
12.) Treasure Planet
13.) Saludos Amigos
14.) Fun and Fancy Free


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