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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

Week # 10: "The Three Caballeros"

(originally published on 3/9/22)


The Three Caballeros

Run time: 70 min

Release Date: February 3, 1945

Where/when I first saw it: VHS, late ‘80s

How I watched it today: Blu-ray on the big screen, Saturday evening

Released exactly two years later to the day after “Saludos Amigos,” Disney released a more exuberant and streamlined effort to further strengthen America’s relations with Latin America. “The Three Caballeros” is less of a hodgepodge of shorts interspersed with documentary footage and more of a celebration, with Donald Duck being taken on a colorful tour through many countries, learning about the cultures, dances and expressions.

Its story device seems only half-thought out, with our frustrated, feathered hero receiving a box full of presents, each one opening a door to a new South American tradition and Donald going along for the ride. The film is broken up into seven segments, a couple of which feel like stand-alone shorts that could be disassociated from the rest (“The Cold-Blooded Penguin” and maybe “The Flying Gauchito”), but the rest involve Donald, who is eventually joined by the Brazilian parrot, José Carioca (first introduced in “Saludos”), and the Mexican rooster, Pancho Pistoles. Through these characters, Donald learns about piñatas, dancing the samba, and Mexico City, where Donald falls in love with real-life singer, Dora Luz.

Many real-life singers and dancers make appearances in the film, including Aurora Miranda, sister of Carmen. Previously, the Disney artists only dabbled in real life merging with animation (a shadow of Mickey in “Fantasia” and a couple moments in “The Reluctant Dragon”), but “The Three Caballeros” is notable for taking it to the next level, with Donald and José often interacting with the live-action locals. The result still works today. In fact, to call “The Three Caballeros” a Technicolor visual feast is somewhat of an understatement. Along with their newfound love for this technique, the Disney artists really cut loose in the final stretch of the film, offering a psychedelic trip through cartoonland that is just an explosion of color and surrealism that makes the “Pink Elephants” segment from “Dumbo” seem like test footage.

On the whole, this is one happy movie. When you get past a few of the cringe-worthy elements, such as Donald lusting after a human being, the sight of women all in blindfolds or the questionable cultural appropriation aspect of the entire project, “The Three Caballeros” is Disney returning to a sense of joy that briefly went missing during this period while they had to make war films. In a modern context, sure, it’s completely disposable, but if one were to make a list of Disney movies to put you in a happy place, “The Three Caballeros” would have to be on it.


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