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|Kevin Krock, editor|
About 60 years ago, the Disney Studios were in a bind. With Europe wrapped up in World War II, a major portion of Disney's traditional audience was too busy with the war effort to spend any money on being entertained. Money at the studio was tight, and major animation projects were too expensive to justify without a worldwide audience. To resolve these issues, Walt looked to South America to find another audience and potential source of inspiration and revenue.
As part of a wartime goodwill mission between North and South America, Walt and a group of animators and artists toured many South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Spending time with the locals proved to be a unique inspiration to the team, which returned to the U.S. with hours of reference film, hundreds of sketches, and a plan to develop the material into a theatrical film.
The outcome was actually two movies, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. The first movie was a bit of a test to see if U.S. audiences would pay to watch a package feature that emphasized cultures with which most North Americans were unfamiliar. It also served as an inexpensive chance to see how the movie would perform down south.
This 42-minute combination of animation interspersed with live action footage follows Walt and his crew as they travel from the U.S. to Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. Donald Duck provides the initial comedic relief as he represents a typical North American tourist in a brief animated sequence. Other animated sequences include a story about Pedro the little mail plane, the "Gaucho Goofy" short, and a long segment with Donald Duck and Joe Carioca touring South America and learning the samba.
While the film lacks continuity, the animated sequences and footage of Walt make this a slightly dated but very charming film, and its brevity makes it quick and enjoyable.
After Saludos received a warm reception in both the U.S. and South America, The Three Caballeros was completed and released a few years later. The movie opens on Donald Ducks birthday, as he receives a huge present from his friends in Latin America. Upon opening it, he discovers a movie projector and stack of movie reels. The first couple of movies he watches are the two animated shorts starring Pablo the Penguin and Little Gauchito with his flying donkey. Then, Donald unwraps a book, and when he opens it, Joe Carioca appears and takes Donald on a music-filled tour of Brazil. Shortly after they return, they meet up with Panchito, the rooster host, for a fast-paced tour of Mexico and its culture.
Both films offer eclectic collections of musical and visual arts that range from the beautifully surreal to the stunningly psychedelic. They, like Fantasia, demonstrate animation styles way ahead of their time, and even today you can see how the Disney animators were pushing and exploring the visual limits of their medium. Additionally, The Three Caballeros was the first film in which Disney made a full-fledged attempt to combine cell animation with live action, and while a little rough in spots, still works quite well. Between these two movies, not only do you get an entertaining introduction to several South American cultures, but you also get a good dose of wonderful animation and music.The Goodies
Both of these discs are very early Disney DVD releases, and at the time, Disney was focused on getting into the DVD market as quickly and cheaply as possible. This meant that just about all of the releases from late 1999 to mid-2000 had very few bonus items, and these discs definitely fall in that category. Saludos Amigos only has the theatrical trailer, and the highlight of the disc, a brief documentary called, "South of the Border with Disney." The featurette is essentially the travelogue for Walt and company as they hopscotch across South America recording their experiences.
As for The Three Caballeros, the only bonus items on the disc are a theatrical trailer and two animated shorts. Fortunately, Disney has recently dropped the price of these discs, so they are now better priced for the limited bonus material.The Video, Audio, and Interface
Besides being light on bonus material, the video, audio, and interface are also quite basic and unexceptional. The full-screen video transfers are bright, nicely saturated, and fairly clean for 50-plus-year-old movies, but because of the lack of restoration, both films show their age. The audio is adequate, but considering the amount of music in these movies, the mono transfer sounds constrained and disappointing. While these two movies may not be top sellers in Disneys roster, they could stand a little restoration and remastering to make them more appealing and ensure their preservation.
The interface, like just about all of the first-generation Disney DVDs, is simply boring. At the time these discs were released, Disney had not quite figured out how to make engrossing interfaces, so all of the menus are simple static screens without any audio cues. The other major issue I have with these older DVDs is that you are forced to watch or manually skip through the very outdated DVD and movie previews. Fortunately, Disney has just about taken care of both of these issues with their current DVDs, but there are still several Disney titles out there that have these problems.The Final Evaluation Both of these movies are quite enjoyable, fun, and even a bit educational, but some folks may find them dated. The animation is classic Disney, and it is just a pleasure to watch. The DVDs, though, are only marginally better than their VHS counterparts, but with the recent price drop and the longer lasting quality, the DVDs should go somewhere on your videotape replacement list.
The Three CaballerosGoodies:
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