Saludos Amigos (Hello Friends!), 1942, 42 minutes
Something is obviously different. It opens with a title song, the first of many in the Disney canon. Also, the film is only 42 minutes long.
As I wrote in this post, Amigos is a horse of a different color. The film proper begins with a brief, somewhat distasteful, though not necessarily offensive live-action overview of the Andes, and some interesting drawings flash on screen before our first animated segment starts.
In Lake Titicaca, we see Donald. The segment is a classic Donald cartoon, with a narrator giving a drab, humorous description of the Lake and its surrounding villages, showing us people and animals alike. The animation is terrific, though resembles a Disney short film much more than the features we’ve already taken a look at. The animals are animated much more simply and playfully, with everything having a bit less shape and texture, favoring a simpler, flat style. It is a decent, if unmemorable, introduction, and introduces the first speaking role by a “classic” Disney character in the feature canon.
Pedro offers an unusual story about a Chilean airplane, the child of an airplane couple, and how he must overcome his obstacles after being given the task of retrieving the family’s mail. It is an imaginative sequence, though it is at this point in the film when the narrator starts to wear on us. The narration, while charming, and often funny, is much too prevalent, and overwhelming. The shorts would each be better if the characters in the film were given bigger speaking roles, and had less overall narration. Pedro prevails, much to the relief of his parents, and the mail was properly fetched. It is a charming segment, certainly more so than Disney’s Planes, but it is a bit hollow.
Next, a segment in which we are given view of a traditional dance put on by Argentinians, where animators are taking notes enthusiastically to make their cartoons more authentic. This quickly leads to a scene in which Goofy is transformed from American cowboy into Argentine Gaucho. It is nice to see Goofy, as using these classic Disney characters seems to inject this film with an energy that is not there in Pedro. El Gaucho is vintage Goof. The cartoon has the vibe of those How To cartoons Goofy became famous for: Art of Skiing, How to Play Baseball, and many, many more. It is an entertaining segment, more memorable than Titicaca, and much more fun than Pedro.
Aquarela do Brasil is the film’s finale, and the only cartoon important enough to get its own title card and credits. The film shows us a cartoon animator painting a watercolor of Brazil (The translation of the title of the film,) and immediately it is apparent that this segment is trying to be a bit more daring than its three co-films. Eventually, Donald is painted to life, and starts interacting with everything around him, including the charming José Carioca, a parrot who is the apparent South American equivalent of Donald.
José and Donald have a quick word that quickly becomes song, as they then begin to walk around and explore the “strange” world of Rio, as it is painted in real-time. The short is beautiful, and much more sophisticated than the three short films before it. It is also the least interrupted by the narrator, and so the action is given a bit more time to breathe.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, or The Academy, defines a short film as being 40 minutes or less, including credits. Anything longer than that is a feature. Saludos Amigos is then only technically a feature by a margin of two minutes, four seconds. Given the amount of narration and live-action segments between each film, it feels like the movie flies by in under a half hour. While the first three segments are somewhat bland, it is not until the last segment with José and Donald that the film really shows any spark.
Saludos Amigos was not a work of passion, but of necessity. The company needed to distribute something, and as far as needing to get by goes, this film could have been much worse. The film is entertaining, though ephemeral and nonessential. It is the weakest film in the Disney canon thus far, but it is understandably so. Walt Disney poured himself into the first five films, but was stretched very thin by the time World War II had come around and altered the entire structure of the company. It shows. These animated segments deserved better. Each could make a good short film, had the narration been altered or cut, but as it is, only the film’s finale can really be enjoyed to the full extent.
Watch El Gaucho Goofy, Aquarela do Brasil, and skip the first two. The narration is annoying throughout the first two segments, but the second half of the film is much better.
The Three Caballeros is up next!