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Disney 53, Week 7: The Three Caballeros

Each week, THN takes a look back at one of the Walt Disney Animated Classics. The ones that the Walt Disney Company showed in cinemas, the ones they’re most proud of, the ones that still cost a bloody fortune no matter how old they are. The really good ones get through more re-editions than a Spielberg movie, and that’s saying something.

This week it’s THE THREE CABALLEROS. Ay Caramba.


Directed by Norman Ferguson

1944/ 72 Minutes

Being part of the studio’s good will message for South America, THREE CABALLEROS follows the same basic framework as its predecessor, SALUDOS AMIGOS; a combination of self-contained animated shorts, some filmed footage of various locales around South America, and hallucinatory sequences that have you staring at your drink wondering who spiked it. The final act is one of the  most bat-shit crazy sequences ever to come from the Disney studios.

SYNOPSIS: It’s Donald’s birthday, and each present he opens is the starting point of the next segment:

His first gift is a film projector, with three short films.‘The Cold-Blooded Penguin’ is effectively one of those Disney cartoons that everyone’s seen, with Sterling Holloway – voice of The Stork, The Cheshire Cat and Kaa, amonst others – narrating the tale of an Antarctic penguin by the name of Pablo, who is so fed up of being cold, he builds himself a boat and sails to the Galapagos islands. It has the feel of the short they put before the main picture.

Then there’s an animated documentary on the kinds of ‘Rare Birds’ you’d find in South America, each given the usual caricature, and featuring the debut of the Aracuan Bird, who would go on to reappear like a bad rash in numerous other Disney pictures.

‘The Flying Gauchito’ is another short, with the narrator telling of his adventures as a little boy in Uruguay and finding a winged donkey, christened ‘Burrito’. He then enters the donkey into a horse race, wins, but is rumbled when Burrito flies off to check out a passing bird.

‘Baía’ sees the return of cigar-chomping parrot José Carioca, who takes Donald on a trip (in both senses) through a pop-up book to Baia, the capital of the Brazilian state of Bahia. Once there, Donald and José meet up with some of the locals, and get in on the dance. This is where it gets interesting. For the first time in a feature (not counting Mickey’s bit in FANTASIA), the cartoon birds are seen alongside real live dancers, most of whom are trying to get in with Celebrity Cameo Number One, the singer Aurora Miranda (sister of Carmen).

After a quick dalliance with black magic, Donald opens his third present, and here it starts getting weird. It begins with a humungous box labelled ‘Mexico’, and a surprise cameo from the Sound Track, who’s picked up some new tricks since FANTASIA.

Enter Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican rooster, and Disney’s answer to Yosemite Sam. Panchito leads them first into the title song, ‘The Three Caballeros’, and a head trip to rival Pink Elephants on Parade, before giving Donald his gift from Mexico; a giant Piñata.

Panchito then explains, accompanied by sweetly-drawn illustrations, the Mexican tradition of ‘Las Posadas’ (‘the inns’), symbolising the journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, and the significance of the Piñata.

After being screwed about a bit by his friends, Donald cracks open the Piñata, out of which springs, amongst other things, a flying sarape (blanket), which whisks the three caballeros off across ‘Mexico’, through some more filmed footage and human co-stars. It’s here that they really go to town, with Donald mixing it with the ladies, while learning various dances.

The film basically becomes almost like a kind of technical exercise for the artists and animators, to see what they’re capable of, and just how far they can stretch your pathetic little grasp on feeble reality.

‘You Belong To My Heart’ is the warm-up; the skies of Mexico result in Donald falling in love with Celebrity Cameo Number Two, Dora Luz. The lyrics in the song itself play parts in the scenarios, so as to what is happening on-screen is anyone’s guess, to be honest.

From there, all hell breaks loose. ‘Surreal Reverie’ is like Pink Elephants, FANTASIA, ‘Heffalumps and Woozles’, the last 20 minutes of 2001, the opening sequence to Jonny Quest (the 90s one), the ‘ludicrous speed’ bit in SPACEBALLS, and the titles to ‘Doctor Who’ (all of them), all thrown into a blender and poured onto the screen. Put bluntly, it’s fucked up, but it’s brilliant. It’s a masterpiece of animation and mixing animation with live-action, and just about the trippiest thing you will ever see.


Lessons Learned

1. There’s a lot more to South America than you can cover in one movie.

2. Mexican kids have really sweet traditions. (Literally and figuratively)

3. Latin music is still kinda sexy.

4. Don’t do drugs. But if you do, watch this.



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Aside from Donald, José and Panchito, we get a hero for each other segment, so it wins points just for having so many. Whether you count the Aracuan bird or not is up to you.




Unlike its predecessor, this one actually has a female presence. Hell, most of the ‘cast’ are women, which is quite surprising when you think about it. And while I didn’t find any of them particularly attractive, they certainly put the moves on Donald.




There’s not a single character who could be considered even remotely villainous, except the Aracuan bird again, and even then he’s more of a nuisance, dicking about and messing things up for other characters.




Everyone has their moment in the spotlight, and everyone’s shunted back and forth between hero and sidekick, really; the three leads are just blokes on a night out, each trying their luck and trying to scupper the others’ chances.




Not much of one, especially in the final third. Seriously, any notion of plot, rationality, sanity or reality is thrown out the window.




Plenty. Some are unintentional, some are a bit forced, but on the whole it’s a really fun movie. A lot of the laughs are either followed or preceded by an exclamation resembling ‘What the [insert appropriate word here]’ and a glance at a recently consumed beverage.




Not so many this time around. It’s more the intimidation and confusion of the visuals that get you.




I actually did pick up a few things watching this, about the pinata and the Christmas tradition. I also learned that Disney animators are very strange people.




Composed by Edward H Plumb, Paul J Smith and Charles Wolcott, the music is bit of a grab-bag, all of it varying in brilliance. We have beautiful serenades, lively Latin beats, toe-tapping songs and traditional ballads. It’s a Latina FANTASIA, focussing on the music of the continent.




It’s honestly surprising THE THREE CABALLEROS doesn’t get more of a look in. It’s a technical, avant-garde masterpiece. Unfortunately, it was a bit too avant-garde for some critics, who marked it down for it ‘display[ing] more flash than substance, more technique than artistry.’ (Steven Watts). Some others were a little perturbed by Donald and his pals lusting after flesh and blood human women. It got a few Oscar nominations for its score, but kind of fell down the back of the sofa like the other features of the period.



A couple more and we can start with a scoreboard. Sneak peek: at the moment, BAMBI is in second place.

Anything to add? Be our guest!




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