Disney’s “The Three Caballeros” (1944) Review

Image: Disney, Wikipedia.com

No better classic, amazing trio of characters has ever been assembled in such a weird film as this. I loved these guys when I was younger and I remember this film for having such catchy music and great visuals…

Was young me right?

PLOT –

Donald Duck (Clarence Nash) receives a gift from his friends in Latin America: several films about culture and life in Latin America. He is reintroduced to suave parrot José Carioca (José Oliveira) and meets the fun and wild gun-toting rooster Panchito Pistoles as they dance and sing their way through the Americas. Featuring Latin American stars such as Aurora Miranda, Dora Luz, and Carmen Molina.

Technically, this is Disney’s first sequel, but this is more like a spiritual successor to the previous film, Saludos Amigos, which was pretty good, and stuck to a formula. This film… Has no formula. You would think that with the popularity of the first travelogue Disney would stick to what works, but this film seems to throw segments at the wall and see what sticks.

The first two shorts, “The Cold Blooded Penguin” and “The Flying Gauchito” worked excellently, yet once José enters, the dancing takes over and the human characters usurp the animated ones. Fifteen minutes goes by, and then, finally, the titular trio is completed: Panchito Pistoles arrives, bringing the lively culture of Mexico to the film with the title song… For fifteen minutes or so, and then the film goes off the rails for the last twenty minutes, turning into pure insanity and more live-action mixed with animation.

My PLOT Rating is 2 / 5.

CHARACTERS –

Donald Duck (Clarence Nash once again) is the star of this show. He provides the framing device but eventually the framing device becomes the story, so I guess he is our de facto protagonist. If I must say though, this is the worst interpretation of Donald I have ever seen. I’ve never see him to be so womanizing, and it’s jarring. Donald saying “toots” to women (multiple times), and trying to kiss every woman he meets is incredibly demeaning, and most likely a product of the times, but wow, is that shocking today.

José Carioca (José Oliveira) is basically the same as Saludos Amigos, but his schtick has already worn over time and isn’t as effective. He does have a few new tricks up his sleeve, yet these are tired cartoon tropes (growing and shrinking, multiplying) that we have seen multiple times before, and the cigar is now more out of place and noticeable now that it’s not cleverly being used for humor like before.

Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Garay) is excellent. He adds some much needed heart to the trio, and I think he is the reason I remember him so much. He stands out with his vibrant red, crackling pistols, and energetic go-gettum’ attitude. He had me rapt with attention whenever he was onscreen (while watching this as a child and for this review) because he spoke like he wanted to be heard: calmly and concisely, about tradition and things close to the heart, unlike the monotonous dancing previous.

Pablo Penguin (narrated by Sterling Holloway) had me hooked. I personally love penguins so I was in from the start. He represents never giving up, and I appreciate that. He also displays ingenuity and drive to achieve his goals, similar to Pedro the Plane previous. Sterling Holloway also narrates this segment (cheekily called ‘Professor Holloway’) and it just elevates this even more.

The Aracuan Bird (Pinto Colvig, ah-hyuck) is a standout to me. He’s weird, funny, and while he should be the ceiling of weird in this film, he sadly isn’t. He has a bit where he zooms onscreen and takes Carioca’s cigar, but that’s as funny as he gets. He has a catchy humming mumble that he keeps saying that will get stuck in you head… Wait, that’s why he’s so memorable to me, isn’t it?

The Flying Gauchito (narrated by Fred Shields) has a playful “Boy and his [animal]” story, and this is fine. The characters all serve their purpose, and the chemistry between the pair shines through, and it’s cute. The narrator even gets some play in, as this is a retelling, as he forgets some details that have to be swapped or drawn in visually, confusing or distressing the Gauchito as the is bounced around by the animation, and clue the little Gauchito in on what to do next in the story.

The singers and dancers (Aurora Miranda, Dora Luz, Carmen Molina, Francisco “Frank” Mayorga – Mexican Guitarist, Nestor Amaral, Trío Calaveras,  Trío Ascencio del Río, Padua Hills Player, and Carlos Ramírez) are sadly, the low point of the film. Yes, they add the animated characters in to try and appeal to the audience, yet it does not connect with me. It’s like going over photos of someone else’s vacation: You want to be there more than you care about their vacation photos, and it’s just boring. I found myself looking at the time left, and just waiting it out, but eagerly hoping that there would be another shakeup in what little story there was.

You can tell that everyone, animators, dancers, singers, are all doing their best, but it all doesn’t mesh. Separated from the animation, they are all accomplished in their fields. The dancing is awesome, the singing is beautiful, and the instruments are divine, but when within the framework of an animated film for children, they don’t combine that well at all.

My CHARACTERS Rating is 2 / 5.

DIALOGUE –

The dialogue in this film is great. Narrators get in on the action, Panchito tells a great Christmas story, and the tone is kept consistent in the dialogue, depending on the scene at hand. Again, like Saludos Amigos, the dialogue works really well… At least, when the film stops dancing to explain anything going on. Explanations in particular are good in this film and the slow, deliberateness of the story and travelogue portions is refreshing compared to the breakneck pace of the dancing and singing portions.

My DIALOGUE Rating is 4 / 5.

EFFECTS –

The effects in this film are really close to being great. The fifteen-minute dancing portion mid-film contains some obvious compositing that is jarring, and while the end sequences are inventive, they are too weird and sometimes chaotic to decipher. Again, the beginning shorts are excellently animated, but once the film has live actors interacting with animated characters, the effects take a nosedive. There are some good lighting effects in the film, but only when just animated or just live action characters are on live screen, and for fleeting moments.

My EFFECTS Rating is 3 / 5.

MUSIC –

The music really shines here. There are many songs in this film, so I’ll spotlight a few:

“Baía” is a nice song sounding like the wind from Fantasia. Breezy and chill, with beautiful visuals of different parts of the state during the sunset.

“Have You Been to Baía?” is catchy, mixing English and Spanish lyrics together, and has a funny, abrupt ending.

“Os Quindins de Yayá” is good, but lasts for a while, and is in the middle of a long sequence already, as well as being interrupted by “Pregões Cariocas”, Donald and José at times.

“The Three Caballeros” is the standout of the many songs featured, being in the heads of many for years after watching (including mine), and it does work with or without the animation.

“Mexico” is also a great song, showcasing Mexico from a ‘ Soarin’ ‘ point of view, majestic and grand as the land it is portraying.

Other songs are sometimes drowned out or are in sequences that last for tens of minutes on end. The background score is also very good, to be expected by now to correlate with the animation and complement and heighten the visuals.

My MUSIC Rating is 4 / 5.

OVERALL –

It’s hard to justify this film as a whole. Several parts of it work really well, yet others drag on and feel like padding or pandering to the celebrities of the time. If the first two shorts and the introduction of Panchito were integrated into Saludos Amigos (making it a 80 or 90-minute film instead), this would be a much more solid entry of the Disney Animated Canon than the two films separately.

This film has great music and dialogue, good effects, and a plot that suffers from being too padded and characters that suffer from being too varied, scattered, and in the case of out hard-to-understand de facto protagonist, out-of-character.

Image: Disney, The Musical World of Walt Disney by David Tietyen: Hal Leonard Corporation (1990)

My OVERALL Rating for The Three Caballeros is 60%.

Next time, we’re going to create something personal and catchy…

We’re going to Make Mine Music.

Stay tuned!

PS – I must mention that these characters have been retooled for the Ducktales 2017 reboot as well as the show The Legend of The Three Caballeros. Both have excellent writing and animation, with the latter having better lighting and animation fluidity than the former, with DT2017 having more stylistic and humorous qualities with a lot of heart. Both shows breathe new life into these characters (especially Donald) and are worth checking out, and are both on Disney Plus (check an episode guide online to make sure you’re watching them in order because both shows are sequential, having story arcs and events that carry through until the end) or on DisneyXD.

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