The Three Caballeros, 1944, 72 minutes
The Three Caballeros has a bit more tooth to it than its predecessor, Saludos Amigos. Its animated sequences are better overall, its wraparound material funnier, and most importantly, there is a lot more Donald Duck and José Carioca. There is a long parade scene with Aurora Miranda, which is Disney’s first notable blending of live-action and animation.
Still, despite being a better movie than the previous feature, it’s not great. While it is not boring, per se, the whole thing fails to hold together. Opening with a wonderful short about a penguin, narrated by Sterling Holloway (in his 3rd Disney feature appearance). It is a beautiful, hilarious short, and sets the tone that this film will be much better than Amigos. Unfortunately, nothing else in the film quite lives up to this introduction.
The movie is framed with charming scenes involving Donald Duck opening “presents” from all of his “friends.” Really, it’s just a bunch of short films in boxes, but at least these wraparounds are more cohesive and enjoyable than the live-action narrated sequences of Saludos Amigos. The extra Donald in this movie makes it much funnier, even if a little of him goes a long way.
The next short is about a flying donkey and its owner, and it is both ridiculous and somewhat annoying. The whole thing has this sort of childish unprofessionalism to it, like it was pitched by some animator’s kid but never really fleshed out properly. There really isn’t much to say about this scene, other than I do not care for it.
Outside of the parade scene, the only other segment of note is the ending, in which Donald Duck, who has been inexplicably transformed into a sex-crazed maniac, keeps imagining a beautiful woman in the stars, only to have every intimate moment interrupted by his friends José Carioca and newcomer Panchito Pistoles at the most inopportune moment. It’s funny the first time, but the bit grows tiresome quickly. However, this is the only segment that fully opens up and becomes cartoony enough to be enjoyed as something absolutely silly, and on that level, it is quite enjoyable. I suppose that is the problem with both Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros: They are cartoons, but they are not fun and zany enough to enjoy the way we enjoy the best Donald and Goofy short films. Conversely, they are not good enough at storytelling, or musically interesting enough to hold our attention the way Fantasia does. Make Mine Music and Melody Time are coming up, and, mostly, they are better versions of this template.
Honestly, Three Caballeros isn’t much. Somehow, I feel I have less to write about than I did after Saludos Amigos, because they have many similarities, and I don’t feel like just writing about each segment. Overall, this is a more successful film than Amigos simply because it is less boring, but the film is still kind of a mess. It was well-received at release, but in the grand scheme of the Walt Disney features catalogue, it is hard to appreciate when we’ve seen so much better.
The historical context is important, and yes, Disney kept the company alive by pushing out these features, but it does not fix the fact that both Amigos and Caballeros are entirely nonessential. There’s a few good scenes in each picture, but overall, neither holds together particularly well. We will see much better animation, storytelling, and music in the next four pictures. Rough as these first two films were, we’re about to have a lot more fun.
The Three Caballeros, final grade: C
PS I’m aware these last two reviews may seem especially lazy, clocking in at about half the length of all my other posts, and not going into much detail. These two are the shortest, I just didn’t know what to say, really, I’m not much of a fan of these two and they’re quite simple. The next few movies are also going to be on the shorter side, but there’s a lot more to talk about in each.
Up Next: Make Mine Music