Overthinking Disney: Saludos Amigos & The Three Caballeros

My friend and I watched Saludos Amigos (42 minutes) and The Three Caballeros (71 minutes) together in one evening, and to be honest they have blended together into one weird movie in my mind, so I figured I would review them together also.

In early 1941, the US Government commissioned Disney to make a movie about South America, as part of the Good Neighbour Policy. Saludos Amigos, released in August 1942, was the result. The Disney team mixed footage of their exploratory expeditions to Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru with four animated short segments about those countries. In the first, Donald Duck visits Lake Titicaca and messes around with a llama. In the second, Pedro, an anthropomorphic airplane, has to deliver mail over the Andes. The third segment features Goofy as a gaucho, or Argentinian cowboy; including a controversial scene where he smokes a cigarette. In the final short, we meet José Carioca, a parrot who teaches Donald the Samba.

José returns in the follow up movie, The Three Caballeros, which was based on the same research trip and used some deleted material from the first film, but follows a slightly different format. (Disney would then ignore South America in its material until The Emperor’s New Groove in 2000.) In The Three Caballeros, Donald is celebrating his birthday – on Friday 13th, month not specified – and his presents are used as the medium for telling the various different short stories.

For example, he receives a projector and a film reel, which tells the story of The Cold-Blooded Penguin, who moves from Antarctica to the equator. This charming segment is narrated by none other than Sterling Holloway, who would later become famous as the voice of Winnie the Pooh.

After the penguin segment, Donald clearly smoked something because from there on out the movie just gets weird. It starts with the Aracuan bird, which is beyond my power to describe. You have to see it for yourself:


Fun side note about the Aracuan bird before I move on. He appears elsewhere; first in the cartoon short Clown of the Jungle, wherein Donald’s attempts to enjoy a relaxing photography holiday are disrupted by the Aracuan, and then again in the movie Melody Time, where he joins José and Donald in another samba. Clown of the Jungle (which is worth a look on YouTube if you want to plumb the depths of Disney weirdness) is part of the Disney collection From All of Us to All of You, which is still aired in Norway and Sweden on Christmas Eve. In 2017, 3.7 million Swedes tuned in to watch this odd segment. Those of you waiting for Disney+ in March will also find the Aracuan bird acting as a caretaker in the new series Legend of the Three Caballeros, also known as ‘scraping the bottom of the spin-off barrel’.

But I digress. Forget about the Aracuan, if you can. I have mentioned José Carioca and Donald Duck; who is the third Caballero? He is another of Mr Duck’s birthday presents: Panchito Pistoles, the Mexican rooster. Panchito literally pops out of the gift box, introduces himself, and then sings a jaunty song about how he, Donald, and José are best friends forever. This is despite the fact that a) they just met and b) he disappears at the end of the movie and is never seen again, even when José and Donald hang out together in Melody Time. So much for “no matter where he goes, the 1, 2, and 3 goes”…

Perhaps they fell out over a woman? Certainly, one of the more disturbing elements of both these films is the objectification of females, with Donald lusting after various different cookie vendors and Carmen-Miranda-hat wearing singers. There is also a segment where he literally chases bikini clad women on a Mexican beach. And dances with sexy cacti. No, I am not making this up. Considering that Daisy Duck entered the scene in 1940 and Donald’s trip to Latin America took place in 1944, that makes him a cheating sex pest at best. And let’s not overlook the fact that the only female figures in these movies are there as eye candy, rather than characters in the actual story(ies).

In conclusion, there are parts of both of these movies which are quite watchable; the penguin bit, Donald on holiday, the flying donkey story (somewhere between the Aracuan and Panchito). But there are also some parts which are just strange, or haven’t aged well. I can understand why these films – indeed, why none of the ‘collection of shorts’ movies – did not capture the imaginations of future generations in the same way that Pinocchio, or Bambi did. If ‘Pink Elephants on Parade’ was your favourite part of Dumbo, you may enjoy these films. If not, give them a miss.

Part of my Overthinking Disney series. Do let me know what you think.

Saludos Amigos is available on DVD. The Three Caballeros is available on DVD and Amazon Prime Video.

Overthinking Disney: Fantasia

Fantasia is one of those movies that is older than you think it is; it was the third animated feature length film to be released by Disney, in 1940. I’ve also realised, through re-watching it for this series, that it is longer than I think it is; my sister and I used to fast-forward to the bits we liked and ignore the rest of the movie!

As such, I have no memory of the opening sequence, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, wherein we are introduced to the orchestra and the concept of the film (animation set to/telling a musical story) through a variety of silhouettes and abstract animation. This is an interesting piece of cinema, if you remember that all of the visuals were hand drawn, with no aid from a computer, but otherwise it’s rather dull.

I do remember the next segment, in which Disney has animated fairies, mushrooms, flowers, thistles, and fish dance along to The Nutcracker ballet suite. I used to go see The Nutcracker with my mother and grandmother every year when we lived in Calgary, so I enjoy Disney’s interpretation of the familiar music. This bit of the films holds up when watched as an adult, except for the – ahem – ever so slightly racist mushrooms. (In Disney’s defence, the mushroom music was taken from the bit in the ballet where all the sweets from around the world dance for Clara and the Nutcracker, and is actually called “Tea (Chinese Dance)”, so it’s not entirely their fault.)

Next we have The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the most famous segment in this movie. This one is an actual story set to music, and is, to my mind, what this movie does best (but Fantasia 2000 did better). We all know the tale: Sorcerer goes to bed leaving magic hat unattended; Apprentice (Mickey) uses magic hat without permission to make a broom do his petty chores; broom continues to bring water long after the well is full; flooding ensues; Mickey tries to fix things and makes it worse; Sorcerer wakes up, pissed, and has to fix things.

Interestingly, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is the entire reason that Fantasia exists. Disney was developing a Silly Symphony to revive Mickey’s waning popularity, but it was so ambitious that it began to cost more than a short could ever recoup. Somehow, the answer was to turn the pricey eight minute segment into a very expensive 126 minute film…

After The Sorcerer’s Apprentice we have The Rite of Spring, which I just remember as ‘the bit with the dinosaurs’ – turns out it’s actually three times as long and is the bit with the space, lava, geology, micro-organisms, pre-historic fish…and then dinosaurs. See above, under fast-forward. Plot wise, it’s 2000’s Dinosaur, without lemurs. No spoiler caveat needed; we all know how things ended.

After a brief intermission, we get to ‘meet the orchestra’, via an animated sound track portrayed by a straight white line, which changes into different shapes and colours based on the sounds played.

Then we have The Pastoral Symphony, which is a re-imagining of Greco-Roman mythology via the compositions of Beethoven. This segment features an adorable baby pegasus (the creature, not the Hercules character) learning to fly, centaur and centauress couples courting (and pairing up according to colour, obviously), and naked-bottomed cupids. At the end, a festival to honour Bacchus, the god of wine, is interrupted by Zeus, who creates a storm and frightens all the aforementioned characters. A chubby Bacchus (/Dionysus ) riding on a drunk donkey-corn* is probably one of my favourite features of the entire movie; these tipsy soulmates are relationship goals.

* Donkey-corn = a donkey with a unicorn horn. Isn’t he cute?

After The Pastoral Symphony comes The Dance of the Hours, a ballet performed by animals. In typical Disney ‘flip the trope on its head’ style, the prima ballerina is a hippo.  She dances a pas de deux with an alligator and… yeah, I know, I hear it. This is a weird movie okay – there are also elephants in tutus and ostriches wearing pointe shoes. But it made my friend giggle, and at least it ends here.

Or does it? As kids, we did stop the film after the ballet. That’s because the final scene is nothing short of terrifying. This is literally a segment about good vs evil, Satan vs the church; the narrator even introduces it thusly.

Please can we just rewind and watch the baby pegasus again?

Wikipedia describes this segment in all it’s dark glory rather well: “Using the powers of darkness, [Chernabog -a large devil] raises ghosts, monsters, fire women, a fleet of monstrous imps, blue satyrs, witches and demons from a nearby town with a cemetery. Ghosts of criminals pass through the noose a second time, while others rise from a lake. He then also summons fire and makes the ghosts and the other creatures in his control dance and fly around, before he throws them into a volcanic pit and resurrects them as demons. Harpies fly around as the cavorting gets more chaotic, throwing unfortunate, deformed creatures into the multi-hued flames.” And yes, Disney was pitching this a children’s film.

Then we segway into the happy and eerily religious ending. With dawn’s light, a church bell tolls and, you guessed it, Satan and his goons have to retreat. We then have the song Ave Maria and a very religious candle-lit procession through a dewy forest to a church. It’s a nice ending, but oddly secular.

Overall, Fantasia is not a terrible film. There are parts of it which are eminently watchable, and, as I said before, it’s an incredibly bold and visually stunning concept. But, it runs a little long for even an ardent fan’s attention span, and there are slower/weirder moments which make me want to, well, fast forward.

Part of my Overthinking Disney series. Do let me know what you think.

Fantasia is available on DVDBlu Ray, and Amazon Prime Video.

Overthinking Disney: Pinocchio

Pinocchio, like Snow White, was not one of the Disney films which I watched often as a child. In fact, I don’t think we even had it on VHS. Re-watching it as an adult, I can see why; it’s a weird film.

For starters, who is Jiminy Cricket? He appears to be a homeless bug who has zero qualifications for the role of Conscience. He gets the job by interrupting a conversation which he was eavesdropping on, and then messes up by oversleeping on the first day and letting his charge get abducted on the way to school. He is obsessed with pretty feminine forms, getting distracted by them on more than one occasion. At one point, he identifies the smart thing to do – get an adult (tell Geppetto) – and then decides not to do it. He gets snippy when Pinocchio calls someone else his best friend, and spends a lot of time feeling sorry for himself: “A fine Conscience I turned out to be…” Well, indeed, Mr Cricket.

Furthermore, why doesn’t Jiminiy look like a cricket? He has no antennae, only two legs, no wings. This bothers me.

What’s more disturbing are the, frankly, quite adult things going on this film calling itself a children’s classic. There’s kidnapping, exploitation, entrapment, false medical diagnosis, and human (well, donkey) trafficking. No, really. Everyone remembers the scary whale scene, but this film has a lot more sinister stuff going on.

(What happens to poor Alexander and all the other donkeys which could still talk? This question haunts me.)

And the worst part is, not one of villains in this piece is ever punished (on screen) for their bad behaviour. Not the child-abducting team of Honest John and Gideon; they actually receive financial reward for their efforts. Not the profiteering and emotionally explosive puppet master Stromboli; aside from losing his star performer, his show goes on. Not the kidnapper and animal abuser Coachman; his donkey supply business continues. This lack of retribution is highly unusual for a Disney film, which tends to see the antagonists hoisted by their own petard, or meeting a grisly end.

Speaking of grisly ends, and ‘unusual for Disney films’, let’s not forget that the titular character dies at the end. Yes, he’s brought back to life by the Blue Fairy, eventually – after she said she couldn’t help him anymore, then proceeded to help him again, twice – but there is an actual shot of him lying face down in the water first, which is somewhat disturbing.

It’s also illogical: we just saw Pinocchio and Jiminy walking (and breathing) underwater in their quest to find Monstro. How, then is it physically possible for the little wooden boy to drown?

The only redeeming feature of this film, to my mind, is Figaro the cat. Not only is he a very good pet, but him trying to sleep while everyone else persists in talking is adorable.

And yes, that is a pipe which Geppetto is smoking in the clip above. There is a lot of smoking in this film; and a number of uses of the word “jackass”.

Overall, an odd movie. Not one I’ll be hurrying to watch again anytime soon.

Part of my Overthinking Disney series. Do let me know what you think.

Pinocchio is available on DVDBlu Ray, and Amazon Prime Video.

Overthinking Disney: Snow White

As we all know, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was Disney’s first full-length animated feature film, released in 1937. It’s loosly based on the Brothers Grimm story Snow White. The film was never a favourite of mine as a kid, as I found it too scary, and lacking in good songs/characters.

As an adult, there even more elements which miss the mark, not least of which is the very weak love story; the meet-cute is more meet-creepy. The (un-named) Prince hears Snow White singing while riding past the castle one day, and decides to climb over the wall and frighten her by joining in. Snow runs inside to hide, then realises the stranger is a) a Prince and b) handsome, so decides to come out on the balcony to listen. She kisses a pigeon and sends it down to him as a token of her affection and he leaves. They don’t actually exchange a single sentence, yet she spends the rest of the film talking (and singing) about him.

After meeting her Prince, Snow White is taken into the woods and nearly murdered by the Huntsman, at the orders of the vain and jealous Queen. When he realises he cannot kill her, he tells her to run away. Cue the scary woods scene which put me off as a kid. Snow then meets some charming woodland creatures who lead her to the cottage of the seven dwarfs.

The cottage is, as one would expect from seven men living alone, a mess. (Why they kept it so dusty, when Sneezy clearly has allergies, remains to be explained.) Snow recruits the animals and birds, who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives, to clean the entire place from top to bottom, and do the dwarfs’ laundry.

Meanwhile, the dwarfs are out at work, mining diamonds and rubies. As a child I sort of accepted this, but as an adult I have so many questions. Who are the dwarfs mining these gems for? Are the dwarfs rich? If so, why is their house so small, and didn’t they think to hire a housekeeper? (Is ‘dwarfs’ even grammatically correct? Should it not be ‘dwarves’?) The little men themselves admit, in song, “we don’t know what we dig ’em for”, so I doubt there are answers.

More pressingly: why don’t any of the dwarfs have moustaches!?

Wikipedia informs me this is called a “Shenandoah style” beard, and that it’s often associated with the Amish community. Are the seven dwarfs on some sort of enchanted forest rumspringa?

Anyhoo, the moustache-less bearded men arrive home after a hard day’s work to find their home not as they left it. They find the guilty party, Snow White, asleep on their beds, and, after discovering that she is on the run from the Queen, invite her to stay. She repays them their kindness by making dinner for them, but insists that they wash their hands first.

What follows is a series of (fully clothed) bath-time gags, culminating in a ‘funny’ scene where Grumpy, who did not want to wash, is forcibly dragged over to the tub and scrubbed within an inch of his life. Lets just say 1930’s Disney was not overly concerned with the idea of consent…

The next day, the dwarfs head off to work, each lecturing Snow White not to speak to anyone or let anyone in on their way out. It begs the question, if they were so concerned with her safety, why didn’t one of them stay home to protect her?

Snow decides to pass the day baking blueberry pies for the men – presumably after sending her animal minions out to fetch the berries. She is interrupted by an old hag (the Queen in disguise), offering apples for her pies instead. The Queen lies and says that one particular apple (the poisoned one) is a ‘wishing apple’ and convinces Snow to take a bite. Snow collapses, seemingly dead.

I’d like to divert from the plot for a second to make two observations. One, Snow White does not pass the Bechdel Test; the only scene in which the two female characters interact is a scene in which they discuss making pies for the dwarfs, and wishing for Princes. (It’s also debatable whether the Queen counts as a named character; apparently she is named Grimhilde, but this is never mentioned or referenced in the film.)

Second, after Snow faints, and the dwarfs arrive home in time to chase the hag Queen to a cliff top in the rain, she becomes the first of many Disney villains to meet her end as the result of an unfortunate fall. This is, of course, because the dwarfs are Good Guys; Good Guys cannot kill. So, having the antagonist meet their end due to gravity serves to both punish the bad and save the good having to be bad. (Misters Grimm had no such qualms; their version ends with the Prince ordering the Queen to wear a pair of red-hot iron slippers and dance in them until she drops dead.)

Back to the film and it’s happy ending, sort of. The dwarfs, believing the poisoned Snow to be dead, decide to entomb her in a glass casket above ground, as she is too beautiful to be buried. Of course, this is a lovely image for the scene where the Prince, having located his lost love, comes to pay his last respects and kisses her awake. But, given that they dwarfs didn’t know this was going to happen, how weird is the idea of a glass coffin? Don’t they realise that her body will still decompose? (Probably faster, if there’s a greenhouse effect…)

Thankfully for all, the Prince does come and kisses the beautiful Princess away, and they literally ride off into the sunset, happily ever after. Presumably the dwarfs return to their mining bachelors’ lives, not washing, and shaving their moustaches but never their beards. Perhaps a sequel, where the Seven Dwarfs meet the Queer Eye Fab Five, is in order?

Part of my Overthinking Disney series. Do let me know what you think.

Snow White is available on DVD, Blu Ray, and Amazon Prime Video.