Disney Marathon: ‘The Three Caballeros’


Of the 13 movies we’d already covered on this list, this is the one you’re least likely to have seen. It’s a collection of shorts tied together through exploring South American culture and was instigated by the US Government wanting to make nice with its neighbours during World War 2. We mean that literally…we’ll explain in the review.

For those just joining us, this is a movie marathon with a twist. Myself (cranky 30s blogger), my son Josh (stoic 10 year old Nintendo obsessive) and my daughter Amelia (drama llama 7 year old princess wannabe) are watching Disney movies in a random order and ranking them. We hope to see interesting differences in how we organise our lists.

Film: The Three Caballeros

Released: 1944

Director: Norman Ferguson, Clyde Gernimi, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Harold Young

Cast: Clarence Nash, José Oliveira, Joaquin Garay, Pinto Colvig, Aurora Miranda, Dora Luz, Carmen Molina, Sterling Holloway, Frank Graham, Fred Shields

Plot: Donald Duck has been sent a delivery of presents by his Latin American friends José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles, launching a cultural celebration of Brazil, Chile and Mexico.

Review: So, about that whole Government World War 2 thing. Roosevelt instigated the ‘Good Neighbour’ policy, a government agenda of interference and non-intervention between the USA and Latin America. During these wartime years, Disney had a lucrative business relationship with the US government. The studio had a couple of duds on their hands and a strike at the gates, so picking up funding for producing propaganda was a way of keeping themselves afloat. This led to a couple of theatrical releases including Saluda Amigos! and The Three Caballeros.

One of the reasons this may not have had the lasting impact as other Disney feature animations from the era is that it’s essentially a collection of shorts, very loosely tied together with nonsensical bridging material, but lacking the artistic predisposition of Fantasia. The quality varies greatly segment to segment, with some showcasing experiments in blending live action with animation and others struggle to fit the theming. The one consistent theme throughout the film is how damn horny these three birds are for Latin women.

Let’s take it from the start. It’s Donald Duck’s (Nash) birthday and he’s received a shipment of gifts from his Latin America. The first gift is a film projector and a couple of films, beginning with ‘The Cold-Blooded Penguin’ wherein Pablo the penguin can’t handle the cold of Antarctica and seeks to move to the Galápagos Islands. This is followed by ‘The Flying Gauchito’, where a boy finds a winged donkey. Whilst charming little vignettes with goofy humour and classic Disney animation they could be excised from the film and shown on their own as they don’t feature any of the characters nor do much to showcase Latin culture.

When Donald opens his second gift he finds a pop-up book containing a shrunken José Carioca (Olivera). This prompts the segment ‘Baía’, where José introduces Donald to the Brazilian region of Bahía through song. After being shrunk down to size, Donald and José dance the samba through the town along with some live action locals and Aurora Miranda (sister to the more famous Carmen). Donald and José fall in love with Aurora and spend the sequence attempting to woo her, which could be a charming little event if it didn’t then happen ad nauseam throughout the rest of the movie. In terms of the live-action and animation blend, the most impressive thing is that it’s such an early example of the technique as they do a very good job and having the actors interact with the birds.

After the up-beat, colourful and lively musical sequences of ‘Baía’, things take a much slower and forgettable turn for ‘Las Posadas’, focusing on Mexican traditions surrounding Christmas. This only ends when Donald opens his third gift – a piñata – which explodes to reveal the third member of this trio: Panchito Pistoles (Garay). Compared to the cool and smooth-talking José and, well, anyone else, Panchito is an absolute fire-cracker. He’s full of energy and can barely stop yelling, singing, dancing and shooting his guns into the air long enough to catch a breath.

Now that Donald, José and Panchito are together we have the undeniably best part of this movie. They perform the song for which the movie takes its name, ‘The Three Caballeros’, where they espouse their commitment to their friendship, celebrate Mexican fashion and excitedly holler for no reason. We love this musical number, and it prompts a house-wide singalong whenever it’s played. Even if you don’t watch this movie we recommend looking the clip up, and the frantic animation matches the high octane music. Maybe just ignore the smoking, objectification of women and reckless gunplay. If that’s an issue, look up the recent Ducktales episode that reunited the Cabarellos for a reprise of the song some 80 years later with updated content.

They also changed this lyric.

After this high tide mark for the movie (seriously, as a family we love this bit) Panchito leads José and Panchito on a tour of Mexico City for the segment ‘Mexico: Pátzcuaro, Vercruz and Acapulco’. Once again Donald spends the majority of the time pursuing the local women, now in larger numbers by chasing them around the beaches. He better hope Daisy doesn’t watch this movie. Aside from this frat-boy behaviour there’s not much of note here and there’s little story to tie it all together. This is followed by the disembodied face of famous singer Dora Luz singing ‘You Belong to My Heart’ in the night sky whilst Donald, once again, lusts after her. Then everything goes surreal for the aptly named ‘Donald’s Surreal Reverie’.

It’s this final sequence that cements this as possibly the most experimental and strange theatrical release in the Disney canon. Whilst Fantasia had the conceit of being set to and visually representing classical music, this dive into surrealism is madcap lunacy. Think the Pink Elephants of Dumbo but making less sense. Eventually José and Panchito pit Donald against an explosive toy bull and everything explodes into fireworks.

Um.

There’s little point in trying to summarise with a single rating and comment as watching the segments as a whole provides a very inconsistent experience. They don’t gel together and vary in quality. It loses points for some of the segments only being worth a watch as a curiosity. It does have ‘The Three Caballeros’ musical number though, and I’ve never tired of watching that. They do, after all, have snappy sarapes.

Best Song: ‘The Three Caballeros’. Duh.

Weirdest Trivia: In 2019 Donald reunited with José and Panchito in an episode of Ducktales. In this they retcon ‘The Three Caballeros’ to be the name of their band, and Panchito Pistoles now has cell phones in his holsters instead of guns while José has quit smoking cigars.

Rating: SIX out of TEN – mostly for the solid live action/animation and, yes, the song.

THE RANKING

ME

I love the history behind this, but there’s limited real entertainment here compared to a movie with an actual story. Still…that song is an absolute banger.

You can click on those titles below if you want to see what we said about those films.

  1. Robin Hood
  2. Aladdin
  3. Big Hero 6
  4. Tangled
  5. The Sword in the Stone
  6. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  7. Emperor’s New Groove
  8. Fantasia
  9. The Three Caballeros
  10. The Princess and the Frog
  11. The Aristocats
  12. A Goofy Movie
  13. Treasure Planet
  14. Chicken Little

AMELIA

During the watching of these movies and the short films she discovered while we recently played through ‘Epic Mickey’, Amelia has developed strong interest in vintage animation. She’s been marathoning 1920s and 30s Mickey and Oswald cartoons. Unsurprisingly she loves this and has watched it a number of times since. I can’t imagine many seven year olds ranking this as a favourite movie.

  1. Emperor’s New Groove
  2. The Three Caballeros
  3. A Goofy Movie
  4. Tangled
  5. The Princess and the Frog
  6. Robin Hood
  7. The Aristocats
  8. The Sword in the Stone
  9. Aladdin
  10. Treasure Planet
  11. Big Hero 6
  12. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  13. Chicken Little
  14. Fantasia

JOSHUA

  1. Big Hero 6
  2. Aladdin
  3. Emperor’s New Groove
  4. Treasure Planet
  5. The Three Caballeros
  6. The Princess and the Frog
  7. Robin Hood
  8. The Sword in the Stone
  9. Tangled
  10. A Goofy Movie
  11. The Aristocats
  12. Fantasia
  13. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
  14. Chicken Little