A while ago, I wrote about little Pedro, the plane from the animated feature Saludos Amigos (1942). As part of my research for that article I went back and watched both that film and The Three Caballeros (1945).
It was Walt Disney's hope that those films might develop some characters, like the Aracuan bird, that could be used in future projects.
While Walt wanted to keep the characters in the animated features separate from the ones in the shorts, which was one of his arguments for not making a series of shorts with the character of "Dopey" from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), there were always exceptions like Mickey Mouse popping up in Fantasia (1940) and Jiminy Cricket popping up on the Mickey Mouse Club and the weekly television show.
Walt loved the sound of Jiminy's distinctive voice and, more importantly, that it was crisp and clear so it could be used for presenting lengthy stretches of dialog as a host narrator, something that Mickey Mouse nor Donald Duck were capable of doing. In addition, Jiminy's voice, Cliff Edwards, was going through rough times during the 1950s and Walt wanted to help out.
If you are interested in those two films or Walt's trip to South America in the 1940s, then I strongly recommend J.B. Kaufman's book, South of the Border With Disney.
As it usually does, watching Disney films often sparks my curiosity to write about some aspect of them. So this column will look at three of the characters in The Three Caballeros that deserved more screen time starting with one of my personal favorites.
When it comes to the feathered amigos trio, I must admit that my favorite was always Panchito. It always seemed to me that Jose Carioca was too sophisticated and suave to really participate, and that Donald was too bumbling and clueless. Yet, maybe it was that mixture that made the three of them so appealing together.
With a blazing six shooter firing loudly in each hand and a high pitched yell vibrating from his throat, flamboyant Panchito Pistoles, the Mexican charro rooster, literally explodes on the screen as one of Donald Duck's birthday surprises in the Disney animated feature The Three Caballeros (1945).
Created specifically for this film to aid in the greater understanding and appreciation of Mexican culture, Panchito's full name is Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero González III. This unwiedly appellation is a tribute to the Spanish-speaking countries' tradition of having unusually long names that honor their families and history.
According to the "My Name is Panchito" song first used in the House of Mouse television series (Episode 19 "Not So Goofy"), Panchito has relatives in Peru, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, and Dallas, Texas.
Generally, this maniacal caballero is usually just referred to as Panchito or Panchito Pistoles (or Pancho Pistolas as he was identified in the Mexican advertisements) with the word "pistoles" referring to the Spanish word for handguns or pistols.
However, in the final film, Panchito only wears a holster and uses his guns in the sequence featuring his introduction to Donald Duck. For the rest of the film, the deadly firearms are mysteriously missing and quiet.
There is no formal introduction or foreshadowing of Panchito, other than his first immediate appearance accompanied by indiscriminate gunfire from his never empty six-shooters. Unlike Donald Duck and Jose Carioca, Panchito is never addressed by name at any time during the film.
When proud Panchito became the newest amigo of the famous Three Caballeros that also included the South America parrot, Jose Carioca, and the North American duck, Donald Duck, the Disney Studio was careful about selecting the proper hues for the character.
According to the September 1944 issue of Popular Science Monthly magazine, "Panchito must not clash with the blue, white and yellow of Donald Duck, nor the green, cream, yellow and vermillion of Joe Carioca. He must be individual and also look well against the many backgrounds. The studio settled the matter by giving Panchito a yellow beak and feet, red comb, gray hat, and reddish purple outfit."
The idea of including a little Mexican rooster in the film to explain the celebration of Las Posadas at Christmas was suggested by Walt Disney as early as 1942 with the small bird then being called "Senor Gallito." However, as work proceeded with the film, the character was given a much larger role and became a bigger, more exuberant Mexican cowboy who punctuated nearly everything he said with raucous yells and never-ending pistol shots.
Part of this change came from the input of Alex Buelna, the head of the Mexican Department of Tourism, who, after seeing some initial work being done on the character, wrote to Walt himself and said, "You will appreciate we certainly want that rooster to be most manly in every respect. He represents to a certain extent our 'he-men' and, believe me, worthwhile countrymen are just that."
Different voices were tried for the character with his original voice finally supplied by a native of Mexico who was fluent in both English and Spanish, Joaquin Garay. Talented Garay was not only an actor and a singer but ran his own nightclub in San Francisco. His son, Joaquin Garay III played a major role in the 1980 Disney live-action feature Herbie Goes Bananas as the character named "Paco."
Knowledgeable Panchito is the resident expert on Mexican culture and passionately instructs his fellow amigos on the history of the Mexican flag, the Christmas ritual known as Las Posadas and the sweet surprises hidden in a piñata.
Then, with the help of his magic serape, as playful and versatile as Aladdin's own carpet, Panchito takes his friends on a flying tour of beautiful Mexico, including brief stops for dancing in Patzcuaro and Veracruz and girl watching at a beach in Acapulco.
In one of the most memorable moments in the film, the loud and brash rooster extols his kinship with Jose and Donald in the comedic title song, The Three Caballeros. The animation for Panchito and the staging of the song was handled by the equally wild and ebullient animator Ward Kimball who was well known for his clever inventiveness.
"I point to that animation as the one bit of animation I'm still proud of, that I can look back on and say it's still funny," recalled Disney legend Kimball. "I was given no story business or action instructions by the director. It was all pure improvisation. In desperation, I decided to think of business that would interpret the words of the song literally, like if they sang the word 'serape', serapes would appear. If they mentioned 'stormy weather,' it would rain."
The inclusion of the song was a last-minute addition to the film, since the Disney Studio felt there should be a song representing the title of the feature. Kimball's work on this sequence is considered a brilliant milestone in animation and guaranteed that Panchito's introduction would be enjoyed by audiences over and over for decades after the original release of the film.
"I broke all the rules. In other words, the Duck would run out on the right of the screen and he'd come back from the top. In those days, if a character walked out there, he had to come in again from the same place he went out. I even had [Panchito's] gun talking and so forth," Kimball said with a laugh. "Another idea I had that gave the sequence a good climax was the extension of the long held note by the rooster at the end of the song. It's where Donald and Jose try to stop the rooster from holding the pose with the note. Walt loved all of it and didn't want anything changed."
As Disney historian J.B. Kaufman wrote, "Standing together, the Three Caballeros were the Western Hemisphere. And the song made it entertainingly clear, standing together, they made an unbeatable team."
In addition, the animated feature had two other characters that Walt had planned on using again but never did.
The Little Gauchito and the Little Burrito are lovable Disney characters who only appeared in a short segment of The Three Caballeros. At the end of the story the narrator laughingly states that they were never seen again as long as they both lived, which was sad since there were many other story possibilities for the cute pair.
When Disney artists returned to the Disney Studios in October 1941 after doing research in South America for possible cartoon stories, one of the very first stories put into development was the tale of an imaginative little Argentine gaucho. In fact, Walt contemplated doing an entire series with the character.
Storyman Ted Sears wrote in his notes from 1941, "The little gaucho (whose name will be decided later—probably 'Panchito') will be a character with a vivid imagination. Each story will open with Panchito in a different atmosphere and some small incident will give him an excuse to go into one of his fanciful tales."
Of course, the name "Panchito" got used for the rooster in the feathered trio who inspired the title of the film and the little gaucho went unnamed.
Some story suggestions for the little gaucho included an ostrich that laid a golden egg, a singing horse, and a pair of magic bolas.
The popularity of horse racing in large cities, as well as smaller rural communities in South America convinced the Disney staff that this would be the ideal story but needed an amusing, imaginative twist. The solution was a "bird donkey" as the character is called at one point in the short cartoon.
Originally the segment was titled "The Winged Donkey" and meant to appear as part of Saludos Amigos, but it continued to evolve and was included in The Three Caballeros as The Flying Gauchito.
There were several factors involved in selecting a donkey, including the fact that it would be the perfect scale for the diminutive gaucho as well as an animal that was associated with South America.
When the Disney Studio artists toured Argentina, they were often asked by the local people to draw characters from the Pastoral Symphony segment that they loved from the Disney animated feature, Fantasia (1940). The people wanted these mythological creatures including the beautiful centaurettes attired in gaucho trappings.
The design of the Little Burrito ended up being a combination of two characters from the popular Pastoral Symphony: the baby flying Pegasus horse from the opening sequence and the comic donkey unicorn that carries Bacchus to the wine feast.
Walt had considered a series of short cartoons with the baby Pegasus from the film and tentatively the character was known as "Peter Pegasus" but once again, it never developed beyond some intriguing story ideas and concept art.
In The Flying Gauchito, there is even a scene where the Little Burrito hovers delicately in midair like a hummingbird, munching on delicious blossoms in a tall tree just as one of the little flying horses did in Fantasia.
The Little Gauchito evolved into a nameless, mute, small comic figure who was to be earnest but not experienced. His antics were to suggest the same type of warmly emotional humor as generated by the character portrayed by the legendary actor Charlie Chaplin according to story meeting notes for the film.
Authentically attired in pink shirt, green scarf, black botas (gaucho boots) and brown pants and hat, the Little Gauchito had his story narrated by an adult version of himself whose suggestions are sometimes ignored by the small boy. Animator Frank Thomas, who had recently had some experience drawing small boys when he worked on the film Pinocchio (1940), was the primary artist on the character.
"Thomas made him an appealing little boy," Kaufman wrote. "He's independent, resourceful and just the slightest bit temperamental. He displays fierce determination in capturing the donkey, and even bridles occasionally at the interference of the narrator—himself as an adult!"
While other gauchos hunt ostriches on the vast plains, the Little Gauchito instead pursues the mighty condors that live high in the Andes Mountains where he encounters Little Burrito.
At first, he only sees dreams of great riches for himself and his family in capturing and taming the aeronautical miracle. However, over time, he develops a true affection and friendship for the playful and sweet Little Burrito.
The animation assignments of the flying donkey were shared by animator Ollie Johnston with animator Eric Larson who, among other moments, animated the introduction of the donkey, the campfire scene and the last part of the race after they have been knocked down by the racing horses.
"Larson uses his well-known skill with birds and animals to advantage," Kaufman wrote. "His introductory scenes establish the donkey's personality—quick, graceful, engagingly mischievous."
According to the film, the brown Little Burrito with a tuff of black mane is five meters from wing tip to wing tip and tame as a kitten. With his prominent front teeth and foolish grin, he both brays irritatingly like a donkey and whistles melodiously like a bird. His great curiosity about birds like the little hornero causes the Little Gauchito to lose the winning prize of a 1,000 pesos for the race.
The Little Burrito eagerly learns new tricks for a sip from the Little Gauchito's cup of mate that the flying donkey loves better than hay. Mate is a popular South American drink prepared from steeping dried leaves of yerba mate in hot water and serving it with a metal straw from a shared hollow calabash gourd.
The little burrito's genuine affection for the young boy even allows him to ignore his natural instincts and easily accept a rope harness and green cloth saddle blanket. Amusingly, he sees the final race as just another wonderful game to play with his new friend.
Together, these two charming young Argentine friends so amused audiences that their adventure was released separately as a theatrical short to movie theaters in 1955. At the end of the film, they fly off into the endless sky and into the fabled tales of legend.
As always, I hope that this brief re-examination of these characters will encourage some of you to pull out your copy of The Three Caballeros to watch once again and that this background information will enhance your viewing.