Saludos Amigos (1943)
Directed by a whole bunch of different people
The first of Disney’s package films, collections of shorts with a unifying theme. In this feature, there are four: Donald Duck visiting Lake Titicaca, Goofy becoming a gaucho in Argentina, the story of a mail-delivering plane named Pedro on his first trip over the Andes, and Donald hanging out in Brazil with the parrot Jose Carioca.
In 1941, the U.S. government offered to pay for Disney animators to tour South America, in return for a film that could be used to counteract pro-Nazi sympathies in those countries. Disney in particular was selected for the program due to Mickey Mouse’s huge Latin American popularity at the time. Since Disney was still reeling financially from the overexpansion of their studios and the loss of their European market due to WWII, they agreed to the plan. The federal loan guarantees that came with the deal helped to keep Disney afloat during the war, and the movies themselves are credited as a big part of changing American attitudes towards South America.
Ah, the package film era. This era of Disney, after the original five classics but before their resurgence in the 50s with movies like Cinderella and Peter Pan, is mostly forgotten these days. If it’s remembered at all, it’s remembered for individual segments of the films, which were frequently aired as shorts on the Disney channel in the 1980s and 90s out of their original context.
After watching this movie, it’s not all that hard to see why. For starters, it barely qualifies as a feature film at all. I complained about Dumbo being too short, but that has Saludos Amigos beat by a good 15 minutes. At 42 minutes, it’s shorter than most Star Trek episodes, and is the shortest movie in Disney’s animated canon by a wide margin. I actually considered doing a combined review with this and the next film, though I ultimately decided that I had too much to say about The Three Caballeros for that to be feasible.
As was mentioned in the synopsis above, this film is divided into four segments of roughly equal length, maybe around eight minutes or so each. The running time is padded out by a live-action framing device of footage of the actual animators touring various South American destinations, which is narrated in a travelogue newsreel style. While the live action segments were integral to the stated goal of the movie in 1943, namely fostering better U.S./Latin American relations, I didn’t really find them interesting to watch in 2019 except in a very general historical sense.
The first two segments are fairly pedestrian numbers, and wouldn’t be out of place in a lineup of 1940s Merry Melody cartoons. In the first, Donald Duck is a tourist in Peru, where he has a run-in with a recalcitrant llama and responds in stereotypically Donald fashion. It’s fine, but nothing spectacular. The second, about a little plane named Pedro, is infinitely more forgettable. I found my attention wavering less than halfway through, and honestly couldn’t tell you too much about it. The only thing interesting about it was the trivia I found out while researching the movie. Apparently a Chilean cartoonist was so offended by this segment that he went out and created Condorito, one of South America’s longest-running comic strips, as a direct counter to it.
The third one is the most interesting of the bunch. It’s an early entry in a series of Goofy cartoons in which a narrator attempts to teach Goofy how to do something supposedly simple, and he does it very badly in complicated ways. In this instance, Goofy is an American cowboy attempting to become an Argentinian gaucho, with fairly disastrous results for both him and his horse. It’s a bit of silly fluff, but it’s entertaining fluff, which is more than I can say for the first two segments.
Finally, we arrive in Brazil for the final segment, once again starring Donald Duck. This time, he’s paired with a new character, a cigar-chomping parrot named Jose Carioca. Together, they wander through some (admittedly pretty) watercolor backgrounds and listen to a couple of samba songs. This one’s mostly notable for its introduction of Carioca, who has a tendency to enthusiastically talk in rapid-fire, untranslated Portuguese. I actually liked the character’s design and personality quite a bit, and wish he’d stuck around for more than the two movies he’s in. He would have been an interesting foil to Donald through the years.
Ultimately, there’s not a lot to really recommend this film for. I’m sure you can find the individual animated segments online if you’re interested, but for the most part they’re entirely pedestrian, and you don’t really need to see this movie before seeing The Three Caballeros.
Animation: B (it’s well-animated, there just isn’t a lot of it)
Main characters: B- (it’s hard to go wrong with Goofy and Donald, but the Chile sequence reminded me of <i>Planes</i>, and that’s never a good thing)
Supporting characters: C+ (I’ll admit to really liking Jose Carioca, but he’s only in the final sequence, and everyone else is very underwhelming)
Villains: N/A (I was tempted to give this a D based on the mountain from the Chile sequence, but ultimately that’s plane v. nature)
Music: C- (pretty much just a couple of samba songs, again in the final sequence)