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The Best of the "Anthology" Films (with one of Animation's Greatest Sequences Thrown In for Good Measure!)
on July 6, 2005
THE THREE CABELLEROS was Disney's 2nd foray into the world of Latin America during World War II. Working alongside the State Department to help foster goodwill in the Western hemisphere (and using Disney's iconic characters to help promote American values), the film is a huge improvement over the previous venture, SALUDOS AMIGOS. And while it may not tell a story, per se, the film introduced several songs that have gone on to become classics, contains several rousing moments, features some fun short subjects, all in a nicely diverting package film.
The film itself is supposedly set on Donald's birthday (here we find he was born on Friday 13th). From his many friends in Latin America (Donald was far more popular south of the border than his more even-tempered costars), he has received a box of presents, and the first present he opens is a movie projector and some movies. (Not very original, but it works.) After some trouble with the projector, Donald sits down to watch the show.
Sterling Holloway (a famous Disney voice, having appeared in films from DUMBO all the way to THE JUNGLE BOOK) narrates the story of Pablo the Penguin. Pablo is cold so he decides to float to a warmer climate. The story is no great shakes, but it cute and some of the stylized maps as he floats up the South American coast are quite nice.
A narrator introduces Donald to other birds of South America, including the Aracuan, one of Donald's costars in the "Blame it on the Samba" section of MELODY TIME. After some craziness with the Aracuan, we are told the story of the little Gauchito who went hunting and ended up with a flying burrito. A cute story, with a great narrator, plus several funny sight gags as the narrator reminds himself of the tale he is telling. The characters were popular enough that Disney began working on a (never released) sequel.
Joe Carioca, a Brazillian parrot, sings the beauty of "Baia," just one of the big hits from the movie, and takes Donald to the beautiful, magical country. They journey on a train through a sequence designed by the amazing Mary Blair, one of the few Disney inspirational artists to take the trip to South America with Walt to research the subject. Her highly stylized designs were a favorite with Disney, much to the chagrin of animators who had to bring the thing to life.
Interaction with human costars begins here, as Aurora Miranda and company sing a tune as Donald and Joe fight for her affections. Considering the film was released in 1945, the blend of animation and live action is quite seamless and very impressive.
The highlight of the film is the title number, "The Three Caballeros," which animator Ward Kimball turned into a tour de force of non sequitirs, sight gags, and amazing silliness. Throughout the song, as Panchito the Rooster sings and dances, Donald is constantly frustrated at his own lack of ability, and the gags pile on one after another. Truly a masterpiece of animation, and one of Kimball's most highly regarded works.
The rest of the movie is a travelogue through Mexico, with some great period film (shot by Disney animators on their goodwill tour), more great music ("You Belong to My Heart" was another big hit from the film), and a wonderful expression of Christmas celebrations highlighted by the first appearence (on film) of Mary Blair's distinctive "children" characters. (These would go on to be the stars of one of Disney's most popular and enduring attractions, "It's a Small World," also designed by Blair.)
All in all, a delightful period piece featuring some outstanding animation by the Disney artists, and the wonderful design work of Mary Blair. If you are a fan of Disney's earlier films (SNOW WHITE, PINOCCHIO) or the later output (ALADDIN, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), you may want to skip this one. It's not story driven, is not a true musical, and feature some highly surreal animation toward the grand finale.
For true Disneyphiles, this is a MUST for your collection.