Disney entered a new era with 1942's Saludos Amigos, a hilarious and fascinating combination of comedy shorts and documentary footage. Partly funded by the U.S. government to counteract Nazi influence in South America, this film shows the benefits of field research.
Amusing animations of planes chasing bulls over a map of South America establishes the live action story of Disney animators, and Walt Disney himself, visiting various locations including Chile, Brazil, and Lake Titicaca.
The narrator explains how the customs and wardrobe on display are remnants of Inca civilisation and it’s genuinely astonishing to see. Just as effective is a following, inventive segment of blundering tourist Donald Duck (Clarence Nash), who manages with one pull of a reed to dismantle one of the local boats shown in the documentary footage.
Other segments include one about an adorable mail plane and Goofy (Pinto Colvig) adapting himself to the Gaucho lifestyle. Again, extensive research is shown paying off as the documentary footage of gauchos is followed by Goofy managing to cheerfully fumble everything in creative ways.
Very short for a feature length film—only 45 minutes—Saludos Amigos concludes with Donald meeting a charming Brazilian parrot named Jose Carioca (Jose Oliveira). This segment combines nice samba with some of the captivatingly surreal animation reminiscent of Fantasia.
Donald is reintroduced when a paintbrush creates a colourful flower which devours a bee. The flower then, for some reason, morphs into Donald.
With World War II and Disney’s financial woes it would be some years before the company could release another full length feature aside from anthologies likes this. But as anthology films go, this is certainly brilliant.
Saludos Amigos is available on Disney+.
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