A Time capsule in the Southern Hemisphere
Originally Released: 1942
Saludos Amigos is the first of what is essentially a series of packaged short films released by Disney that would dominate the rest of the 1940’s. When I saw that Saludos Amigos was next on the list to watch, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It had been years and years since I have last seen either the film in its entirety or one of the shorts separately. I also didn’t remember which shorts belonged to this film and which belonged to The Three Caballeros. In a way, it was kind of like watching the film for the very first time.
The reason Saludos Amigos exists is because as World War II began to spread across the world, the United States government decided that it should establish good relations with the rest of the American continent before Nazi Germany could spread its influence to these nations. Walt Disney was essentially chosen as an ambassador of goodwill to visit Brazil, Argentina, and other South and Central American countries. As a result of this assignment, Walt was able to take his team of artists, writers, and musicians on a nice tour of the American continent. It helped that the Disney characters were popular south of the border, and it seems that the tour was a success.
The film has its moments and is still enjoyable overall. It begins in the Andes mountains at Lake Titicaca and follows tourist Donald Duck in his antics there. It then proceeds to Chile and Argentina and we are treated to two more short cartoons. The first is of a little baby cartoon airplane, and the second is a Goofy tale in the mold of some of those classic Goofy “how to” or “documentary” cartoons (click here to see my absolute favorite of the “how to” cartoons – those cheerleaders crack me up every time). Finally, the film finishes off in beautiful Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where the animation team shows off a very imaginative sequence to the irresistible tune of “Aquarela do Brasil,” featuring samba-dancing pink flamingos and bananas that morph into toucans, to give a couple examples.
It is really hard to try and compare this movie to the five films which preceded it. It really is a whole different animal. But to be quite frank, for most viewers the comparison will inevitably be made, and it probably won’t stack up to their favorite Disney movies. However, I found myself really enjoying it as I watched it again. Not necessarily because it is a great movie, but because I can personally relate to two of these segments. I lived in Brasil for two years in the southern region where they have their own pampas, gauchos, and carne asada (or churrasco, as the Brazilan gauchos call it). I even have my own pair of bombachas. So during the Goofy clip and also during the Rio de Janeiro segment with Donald and Jose Carioca I couldn’t help but smile and wax nostalgic. It also was fun listening to Jose Carioca babble on to Donald and actually understanding what he was saying. That knowledge made this viewing of the film a whole lot different than when I watched the show as a child.
Finally, I must include that for me, what may be the most interesting part of this film is the live-action video. It is almost like opening a time capsule from South America’s past. The scenes of the Peruvian villagers at the marketplace playing wooden flutes, of the dancing gauchos, and of Carnival in Rio circa 1941 is actually quite fascinating. Times certainly have changed. Getting a glimpse of Disney and his team creating their work and catching even a small glimpse of life of a few groups in the highlighted countries back then makes this film worth watching. It may not be a masterpiece like the films of the first golden age of Disney, but it definitely has its value in the Disney canon.