Saturday, 29 March 2008

When Walt went South of The Border

During WW2, the US Department of State commissioned Walt Disney to make a movie that would appeal to Central and South American audiences. Evidently there were concerns that governments like Argentina who had close ties with Nazi Germany could possibly sway the outcome of the war in favour of the Axis powers. Disney's solution was Saludos Amigos, (Hello Friends), the first of two feature length latin excursions by the studio.

Released in 1942 by RKO Radio Pictures, Saludos Amigos is set in Latin America and split into four segements comprising a live action travelogue, Goofy the Gaucho and two Donald Duck segments. The second Donald Duck short introduces a new character, José Carioca a Brazillian parrot played by José Oliviera. It features the breathtaking Acquarello do Brasil samba sequence which links Amy Barroso's classic Brazil and the popular Tico-Tico in a stunning tableau of colourful and imaginative animation. Although Saludos Amigos picked up mixed reviews, it was popular and profitable enough for Disney to produce another Latin flavoured short feature, The Three Caballeros.

Released in 1944, The Three Caballeros reunites Donald Duck with José Carioca and adds another latino character, a Mexican rooster called Panchito Pistoles to make up the the titular three caballeros. Like its predecessor, The Three Caballeros is an omnibus feature, but it is a quantum leap from Saludos Amigos, with more songs and some eye-popping sequences including Os Quindines de Ya Ya sung by Carmen Miranda's sister Aurora against an animated background of dancing houses and other assorted Latin phantasmagoria.

Both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros feature some great latin music and are essential listening. The performances in the movie are especially stunning. Recordings extracted from 78's released at the time but not featuring the artists in the movie are available here The Three Caballeros (week 34) and Saludos Amigos!. (week 18).

Originally created as goodwill messages to Latin America and allegedly a means to allow Walt Disney to temporarily escape the turmoil at his studio created by industrial action and the partial take-over by the US Army, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros have perhaps been overshadowed by other Disney masterpieces. Today they can be viewed more objectively and seen as notable examples of animators being allowed to experiment and let their creativity run riot with dazzling results.

1 comment:

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