Donald Duck’s continuing adventures in Latin America go from surreal to lusty in 1944's The Three Caballeros. The more uniform, less thoroughly animated animation that would characterise Disney cartoons through the 1950s can already be seen taking over and, along with this, the comparatively gentle surrealism and fantasy of earlier Disney films is replaced by something brasher and more aggressive. It’s as entertaining as it is fascinating and sometimes puzzling.
Maybe the biggest question viewers are left with after watching the movie is, “When did Donald Duck develop such a fixation on live action Latin women?”
Much of the last act of the film is spent following Donald (Clarence Nash) as he chases Mexican women in bikinis. Interspersed with this is the increasingly atonal musical call backs to the song of the titular trio. In addition to Donald the Three Caballeros consist of Jose Carioca (Jose Oliveira) from Saludos Amigos and a new character, Panchito Pistoles (Joaquin Garay), a Mexican rooster packing firearms.
Between his guns and Jose’s cigars, this may be the most politically incorrect of the classic Disney animated canon even before Donald’s girl chasing*. Jose was established in Saludos Amigos with a lengthy, conversational introduction while Panchito just shows up, firing his pistols in the air, and immediately the three are hitting the town. The sense of imprudent revelry is strong and one wonders if the filmmakers drew on experience from their own youthful debaucheries in Mexico.
Like Saludos Amigos, this is an anthology film and several stories precede the rampage in Mexico. Jose is reintroduced for a couple musical numbers in Brazil and there’s a sweet song performed by Carmen Miranda’s sister, Aurora, who’s coveted by both Donald and Jose.
Before this, there’s a memorable fantasy about a young boy who befriends a winged donkey. Narrated by the boy supposedly in his adulthood (Fred Shields), it nonetheless features the narrator interacting with the events, even giving advice to his younger self and being shushed by him. And this movie came out before the supposed advent of postmodernism.
It’s never played for irony and the animators’ usual talent for portraying the mannerisms of children is again on display. So it’s very sweet.
Donald’s adventures aren’t entirely without sweetness. One downright Lynchian moment features Donald swooning to a beautiful serenade from Mexican singer Dora Luz whose face resides within a flower throughout the number.
Where Saludos Amigos was a gentle tour, The Three Caballeros is almost a violent romp. Donald’s trademark anger is rarely on display, though, the film instead working out as a vigorous roving party in paradise. A beautifully designed paradise at that.
The Three Caballeros is available on Disney+.
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Potato tea reacts to ice and snow.
The radish waits beneath suspicious broth.
The normal message dims the brainy glow.
With joining hands we praise the thunder sloth.
The waiting bed contains a promised sleep.
The resting sheets were choice for dreamy thoughts.
Suggestions whirl in eddies quick and deep.
A million baskets hold a billion dots.
A colour dream descends on streets of chalk.
A rapid grab was fruitless ‘neath the hat.
A running gag was sprinting ‘long the stalk.
A useful book approached the swinging bat.
The sharpened chalk affects a fragile dart.
The flower face ordains the course of heart.
*For some reason, despite their live action elements, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros are categorised with Disney’s animated features and not among the live action combined with animation features like Song of the South and Mary Poppins.