Deneb does Saludos Amigos

“The llama is obviously not a jitterbug.”

The Scoop: 1942 G, directed by Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske and Bill Roberts, and starring Fred Shields, Jose Oliveira, Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Clarence Nash and Frank Thomas.

Tagline: Walt Disney goes South American in his gayest musical Technicolor feature! [You better not be laughing. What are you, twelve? It meant something different back then, all right? Sit down!]

Summary Capsule: A little travelogue of South America as it used to be, interspersed with some good old-fashioned Disney shorts.

Deneb’s Rating: A nice little appetizer, tortilla chips included.

Deneb’s Review: I have been waiting to see this film for the longest time, for reasons that have almost nothing to do with the film itself.

I suppose that requires some explanation. In order to do so, I must talk briefly of another movie – by name, The Three Caballeros.

I won’t go into why I like The Three Caballeros here (because that review comes next! Next, next, next!), but it was one of my childhood favorites, and it’s only gotten better as I’ve grown older. Here’s the thing, though – TTC is actually a sequel. To what, may you ask? Why, to this, of course! Saludos Amigos!

Naturally, the moment I learned this, I wanted to see the original film. Wanted to, and kept wanting to, because for years and years I could not lay my hands on the darned thing. It was very rare and difficult to come by, and with little demand for it except from hardcore Disney fans. Since I had neither the desire nor the ability to spend lots of time and money tracking down a copy, that was more or less that.

Just when I was beginning to think that it was going to remain more or less that forever, however, Disney finally went ‘oh, all right’, and coughed it up on DVD along with The Three Caballeros on one disk! Yay! And since there was no way in a million years I was not going to review TTC for this site – if any Disney movie qualifies as cult, it’s that one – I figured it was only right and just that I should review Saludos Amigos first. After all, it does come first, and it’s kind of an oddball little film in its own right, and I’d been waiting to see it for years and years, so… yeah. Here we are, another one of my random little obsessions purged, and the results written up for your enjoyment. Read on!

First, a little background. Back in ’41, the world was gripped by war, Pearl Harbor had just gotten a pasting, and, to say the least, the US was deeply worried. One of the things we were specifically worried about was South America. See, that naughty ol’ Hitler had close ties with some of their governments, and while they had so far remained neutral, we were worried that they might not stay that way – specifically, that they might enter the war on the side of the Axis, which would have been disastrous.

So in order to disrupt the siren lure of the Nazis, the US of A went out of their way to be all buddy-buddy towards their neighbors to the south, in order to prove to them that hey, we were pretty nice guys, and didn’t really deserve to be attacked. As part of this effort, the State Department commissioned Walt Disney to go on a goodwill tour of the place, with intentions to turn the resulting footage into a movie. And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened! Sort of.

Saludos Amigos (“Hello Friends” – subtle, Walt) is split between travelogue footage of Disney animators traveling around various South American countries and four animated shorts inspired by their experiences there. These are, respectively, Lake Titicaca, in which Donald Duck visits the namesake location; Pedro, in which an anthropomorphic little cartoon plane goes on a dangerous flight over a mountain pass to deliver the mail, El Gaucho Goofy, which features Goofy showing us what being an Argentinean Gaucho is like, and Aquarela do Brasil (“Watercolor of Brazil”), a sort of mood piece in which Donald is given an introduction to Brazilian music and culture by one Jose Carioca, an engaging parrot who would become much more important in the sequel.

So how is it? It’s not bad.

Honestly, if you’re going into this expecting something epic, you will be sorely disappointed. Saludos Amigos is a mellow little old-fashioned… well, I was going to say a romp, but it’s more like a sort of shuffle. Not that I’m being pejorative with that term; there’s room for a bit of shuffling in the cinematic world. There’s just not a lot of action to it – it’s some cartoons with movie footage in between, and that’s it.

Let’s take a look at the movie footage first. A lot of people will probably be a little bored by this, but personally, I was fine with it. I’ve always been sort of fascinated by those old travel documentaries they used to make, and this is basically that. If anything, I wished there was a little bit more of it – not that the animators traveling around is particularly riveting or anything, but I like watching behind the scenes stuff, and I like seeing footage of the way things used to be, and this combines both. You’ve got Gauchos strutting their stuff for the camera, people in colorful regional outfits, llamas and such walking around – it’s interesting. The one real complaint I would make about it is that it’s kinda fuzzy and out of focus compared to the sharp, crisp animation, which has been given the works and looks great.

Well, anyway, the cartoon segments are the main draw, and take up most of the running time, so let’s talk about them. Lake Titicaca and El Gaucho Goofy are nothing particularly special; they’re pretty much just your standard Disney shorts where Donald and Goofy mess around, albeit with a Latin theme and a bit more focus on being informative. But hell, I like both characters, and I watch their shorts all the time, so who’s complaining? Not me!

It’s in the other two, however, that the movie really shines. Some people dislike the Pedro bit, and I guess I can see why – it is kinda cutesy. Personally, though, I always find it interesting when cartoons anthropomorphize vehicles this way, and in that respect it doesn’t disappoint. We even get to see what a little plane studies when it goes to school – that’s just gloriously bizarre. (One of the courses is airplane anatomy, for Pete’s sake. It’s just a short little gag, but believe me, you’ll remember it afterwards.)

Also, this segment turns one of the movie’s omnipresent elements – the narration – into a definite strength. The narrator is someone called Fred Shields, and while he’s just your standard this-is-the-stuff-that’s-happening guy during the rest of the movie, he gets to show a nice bit of acting talent in Pedro. It’s one of those situations where the narrator is often speaking directly to the characters, and boy oh boy is ol’ Fred giving his all here. He gets really worked up about it, encouraging Pedro to do his best, yelling desperate instructions at him when he’s in danger, and generally acting like an anxious teenage girl watching a scary movie at a slumber party. (‘No, Pedro, don’t do it! You’ll crash! No! No! There’s an evil mountain with a scary face! Don’t go near it! No! NO! Pedroooooooo!’)

Er, yes. Anyway, it’s good fun.

Finally, we have Aquarela do Brasil, which is, if nothing else, certainly the visual highlight of the movie. Disney used to be really good at tone poems like this, and they don’t disappoint here – it’s a lovely little bit of animation, giving us some nice interpretations of Brazilian flora and fauna, mixed in with a bit of Duck Amuck-style fourth-wall breaking. What I was mainly looking forward to, though, was the bit that included Donald and Jose meeting for the first time – which, after all, was the main reason I wanted to see the movie in the first place.

Was it satisfactory? Eh, pretty much. As a Three Caballeros fan, it was nice to finally see Jose’s introduction, and the interplay between him and Donald makes for some good comedic bits. I do have a couple of complaints, though. First off, it doesn’t really blend very well with the rest of the segment, with Donald literally showing up out of nowhere so he can meet the funny Brazilian guy. It’s like ‘no, you can’t have any more of the pretty jungle scenes; we created this new character and you are going to meet him right now.’ Second, it’s too short. It feels like it’s building up to something big, and then just as it starts to get there, the segment ends, as does the movie. It’s really kind of abrupt.

So that’s Saludos Amigos. Would I recommend it? I suppose so. I wasn’t expecting a masterpiece, and I didn’t get one, but I enjoyed it well enough. It’s an amiable, slow-paced little film with some nice animation, and at 42 minutes it’s only technically feature-length, so you won’t have much time to get bored even if it turns out it’s not really your thing. If nothing else, it’s of historical interest, and features some interesting hints of what ‘40’s South America looked like. It’s the sort of film I can picture watching when you’re in a mellow kind of mood and just want to sit back and look at something kinda pretty.

Let’s face it, though, the main reason I reviewed this film in the first place is because it’s the precursor to something I like a whole lot more. Oh sure, it’s good enough for what it is, but the sequel blows it out of the water in just about every respect. And guess what? It’s up next.

The Three Caballeros is coming, my friends. Brace yourselves.

“Uh, Jose, are you seeing what I’m seeing?”
“Oh! Uh… that is a Brazilian Giant Paintbrush, Donald. A common sight in Rio. They touch up the paintwork.”
“Really?”
“No, but close enough.”

Intermission!

  • In the original cut of the film, there was a short bit in the Goofy segment where, as part of his cowboy persona, he rolls and lights a cigarette. This has been edited out of most available releases, as part of Disney’s no-more-smoking-in-our-films edict. Personally, I find this ridiculous, especially since they clearly have no problem with Jose smoking a cigar a bit later.
  • For those who, like me, wish there was a bit more of the travel footage, I recommend you check out the ‘South of the Border with Disney’ segment in the special features. It’s got some interesting stuff in it.
  • The scene at the beginning of the movie where the animators are getting on the plane was staged after the trip had finished, as they had forgotten to film their actual departure.
  • Although Jose specifically introduces himself as “Jose Carioca”, everyone else (including Donald, the narrator, and the guy who wrote the credits) calls him “Joe”. In English, his name literally means “Joe from Rio”.
  • The Pedro sequence proved to be a changing point in the career of Chilean cartoonist Rene Rios Boettiger, who didn’t like the idea that his country was being represented solely by a cute cartoon airplane. Inspired by this, he created the character of Condorito, who has since gone on to become one of the most iconic and best-loved cartoon characters in South America.

Groovy Quotes:

Goofy: Buck-a-doodle!

Narrator: Just a natural-born flyer.
(Pedro begins showing off)
Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned it.

Narrator: The llama is obviously not a jitterbug.

Argentine Ostrich: Did he say ‘bolas’? Caramba!

Narrator: One, two, bite-cut-chew! One, two, bite-cut-chew!

Narrator: Above all, one should never lose one’s temper.
Donald: Shut up, you big windbag!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • The Three Caballeros
  • Robin Hood
  • Make Mine Music
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12 Comments

  1. Nice review! I used to have a whole collection of Disney books called “The Wonderful World of Knowledge.” These guys were all over them and they bring back some good memories.

  2. Hey so this did exist! I remember catching this… at some point… a REALLY long time ago. Probably either on TCM or when Disney used to fill their late night spots with their more obscure movies (see also: The Moonspinners). But then, not remembering the title, I figured I just made it up in my mind, or had several things mixed up together.

    Thanks Deneb!

  3. Disney released Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros together on one DVD a few years ago. I bought it when it came out. I’m a big fan of Donald Duck, and while I also prefer the nuttier Caballeros, this one has it’s moments, too.

    • Possibly, but my personal guess would be that it’s meant as in “gaiety”, as in “what fun!” I mean, the visuals are mostly not all that spectacular, the last segment notwithstanding – it wouldn’t make much sense to boast about the colors when just about everything Disney had done up to that point was more colorful.

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