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, for all you trivia buffs – 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. Both are on Disney+.

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