CAPSULE: THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944)

DIRECTED BY: , Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, , Harold Young

FEATURING: Dora Luz, Aurora Miranda, voices of Clarence Nash, Jose Oliveira, Joaquin Garay, Sterling Holloway

PLOT: Three Caballeros is one of the “package features” that Walt Disney made during World War II, a compilation of short subjects (a la Fantasia) with a vaguely Latin American theme.

Still from The Three Caballeros (1944)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Because only the last 15 minutes or so of this 70-minute feature are truly weird. However, if this were a list of the 366 weirdest animated films ever made, this picture might make it.

COMMENTS: In Three Caballeros, Donald Duck and his friends—the Brazilian parrot Jose, the Mexican rooster Panchito, and the manic Aracuan bird—embark on a musical tour of South America that impressively combines live-action with animation. Along the way, they encounter Aurora Miranda (sister of Carmen) and engage in enough wild slapstick to shame the more anarchic Warner Bros. cartoon characters of the time (Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, etc.).

Despite having its own ride at EPCOT Center, Caballeros is one of Disney’s most obscure animated films, and with good reason: most of it is kind of dull. What does distinguish the movie, however, is its peculiar, almost Tex Avery-like tendency to turn Donald Duck into a downright lustful bird every time he encounters a Latin beauty (which happens a lot), and a bizarrely psychedelic third act that is a relentless assault of wild visual imagery a la the “Pink Elephants on Parade” segment from Dumbo. The last fifteen minutes of the picture practically turns it into Yellow Submarine, with exploding flowers and dancing, suggestive cacti (reminiscent of the giant swaying bananas in ’s 1943 musical The Gang’s All Here), just two factors in a non-stop crazy quilt of pre-psychedelia that refuses to stop until the avian trio has sung the film’s title song and Panchito has shot his guns in the air about 150 times. It’s exhausting (and, by Disney standards, extremely weird), yet clearly the highlight of the film. This makes The Three Caballeros worth seeing for die-hard fans of Disney and/or animation, but they should prepare to do a lot of fast-forwarding on their DVD remotes.

Otherwise, the rest of the film is harmless and/or forgettable, although Blue Sky Studio’s recent, music-filled Rio (about Brazilian parrots) may owe something to both this film and Disney’s similar 1943 packager Saludos Amigos. As alluded to before, this movie obviously has its fans within the Disney empire’s theme park division, as the Mouse has tried to keep all its characters alive in one way or another: Jose and Panchito can be spotted in the revamped “It’s a Small World” ride.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

I would not hesitate to call it the most surreal work ever produced by the Disney studios… in a film full of surrealist touches, Donald the sex fiend is easily the strangest part, though certainly one of the most memorable. (The fact that the animation looks a bit pasted on top of the live action footage just makes it all the weirder).”–Tim Brayton, Anatgony & Ecstasy (DVD)

2 thoughts on “CAPSULE: THE THREE CABALLEROS (1944)”

  1. It’s interesting that the classic era of Disney WWII animation contains so many weird/surreal sequences. Someday I would like to see a Disney mixtape combining the weirdest segments of Three Caballeros and Fantasia with “Pink Elephants on Parade” and “Destino.” Any other weird wartime Disney musical bits I’m forgetting?

    1. The “Blame it on the Samba” segment from Melody Time dips back into some of the surrealism from this movie, but not to any great degree.

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