Sunday, June 23, 2013

Movie Review: The Three Caballeros

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Some of Donald's antics, the animated shorts, the dancing
Cons: Donald's womanizing, no plot at all
The Bottom Line
Birthday visit south
No plot to hold together
Not Donald's best work

Surreal Tour of the Lands to the South

At the risk of losing my Disnerd status, I have a confession to make - until this weekend I had not seen all of the official Disney animated movies.  And that's even though I have owned The Three Caballeros for a decade.  I finally fixed that this weekend.  As I suspected, I wasn't missing much.

The Three Caballeros grew out of a trip that Walt Disney and several of his animators took to South America as part of a goodwill program during World War II.  It was the second animated feature to be influenced by their trip.

You want to know about the plot?  There is none.  Instead, we get a series of animated shorts and some cultural vignettes that are roughly tied together by Donald's (Clarence Nash) birthday.  He's received three presents from his friends down south, and as he opens them, we get to enjoy them, too.

Up first is a film strip, which contains two shorts.  There's "The Cold-Blooded Penguin," a story about a penguin who decides to leave Antarctica for warmer climes.  As someone who gets cold at the drop of a hat I could sympathize with this one.  Next comes "The Flying Guachito" about a donkey with wings and the boy who tries to tame it.  Again, it's fun.

As Donald moves on to his next present, along comes Jose Carioca (Jose Oliveira), a Brazilian parrot.  Through the magic of film, he literally takes Donald to see some traditional dances in Brazil.  Then comes the final present and the third caballeros, Mexican rooster Panchito (Joaquin Garay).  Via a flying serape, Panchito takes Donald and Jose to various parts of Mexico to see more traditional dances, the beaches of Acapulco, and even the tradition of Las Posadas in which the children search through the town for a house willing to welcome the weary travelers of Mary and Joseph.  When they find one, they celebrate with a piƱata.

While Disney counts this as an animated feature, there are plenty of live action scenes once Jose and Panchito arrive on the scene.  We see film of real people doing the dances and the children walking through the village with lights.  Donald and the other birds might interact some, but mostly it's a chance to see the culture at work.

Sadly, when Donald is interacting with the ladies, he is flirting shamelessly.  In Brazil it's actually kind of cute as he is almost too shy to ask anyone to dance.  But by Mexico he's turning into a wolf (okay, not literally, but close to it).  When they hit Acapulco, there's a very uncomfortable scene where Donald is chasing the ladies on the beach (no men to be found anywhere).  They are laughing as they run away, but it's not remotely funny and frankly in poor taste.  I can't even see how it was in good taste in 1944 when the film was released.

Then there's the final bit where someone sings "You Belong to My Heart" as Donald again tries to catch her attention.  The animation here was colorful, but it was also just bizarre, even for the studio that brought you some of the segments of Fantasia.

That's not to say it was all bad.  The two shorts in the first present are quite fun.  The dancing and singing is fun to watch.  There are some interesting tidbits about the cultures of Brazil and Mexico.  And some of Donald's antics are entertaining as always.

On the other hand, it can drag and the lack of a coherent plot really makes it more of a travel documentary than an entertainment film.

In many ways, I'm surprised that Disney still references this movie as much as they do.  It's the basis of a boat ride in the Mexico pavilion in EPOCT and these three birds can now be seen in it's a small world.  For that reason alone, I'm glad I watched it.

But would I recommend it?  Yes, but with the understanding of what it is.  This isn't an entertaining movie but a travelogue of sorts.  But I think the biggest audience for The Three Caballeros will be other Disnerds like me.

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