First Theatrical Release: August 24, 1942 (Brazil); February 6, 1943 (U.S.)
First Home Viewing Release: May 2, 2000 (VHS and DVD)
My Rating: 2/5 stars
Where I Found It: The library’s DVD collection.
Bechdel Test Score: Failed. EP.IC.LY. There is only one female character (a “mother airplane”) out of four shorts, and she has no lines. Other women appear as set pieces.
So, I was sort of dreading these next five weeks.
All these Disney features comprised of shorts that I’ve never really heard of, nor seen, nor ever really wanted to. At the height of my Disney obsession, I felt cheated by the existence of these five movies, dreaming of the feature movies Disney could have done instead.
Only in doing this project did I learn what exactly was up with these strange, outside-the-mold features comprised of shorts.
During World War II, Disney, like most industries, lost much of its workforce overseas. Not only that, but its budget was tighter than ever, since it lost the European market for the duration of the war. So during those years, Disney gave collections of shorts theatrical releases. They could be made more cheaply and with a leaner workforce, and they could bring in a little revenue — enough to help the studio stay open and limp forward until better times. And with that understanding, I can appreciate these little movies for what they gave us — the chance for Disney to remain in business and continue giving us stories to fall in love with in later years.
With that said, I was hoping this movie would pleasantly surprise me, but instead it was essentially what I expected.
The concept of the movie being something of an artistic “travelogue” of the animators’ trip to South America is one that does actually appeal to me. I’m a sucker for travelogues and published journals (especially with artwork) of the book variety. But … it’s just not what I want from Disney. Still, it was only 45 minutes, and they passed pleasantly enough through the following segments.
This short follows Donald Duck as a tourist on the Peru/Bolivia border. It’s a bit of a nightmare for acrophobics like myself. Falling hundreds of feet from a suspension bridge is not funny, Disney!!!! But I liked the llama.
The images of the “natives” in this short were so beautiful that I really wished we could have seen a whole movie about them instead.
Here’s another nightmare episode for acrophobes. This short is about a little baby plane and his parents, who should be turned into social services. Papa Plane has the job of delivering the mail over a dangerous mountain pass to Chile. One day Papa Plane has a cold, but the mail must go out. And Mama can’t take it because she has “high oil pressure.” So that leaves Pedro, who seems to be about six.
Yes, these parents sent their child ALONE over treacherous mountains, in a storm, to do Dad’s job. So, of course I didn’t want little Pedro to crash, but really, those adult planes deserved such a tragic fate for their totally reckless parenting.
El Gaucho Goofy
In this segment, American cowboy Goofy gets a chance at living the life of his South American “counterpart,” the Gaucho. I’ve never been a big Goofy fan, and, I’ll be frank, this whole segment just felt stupid to me. I spent a lot of time trying to decide whether Saludos Amigos as a whole is offensive to Latin Americans, even though Disney’s intent was to reach out to this new audience when it lost its European viewers. So the movie is clearly meant to be a fun but respectful tribute. And of course, nothing says respectful like dressing Goofy in a country’s traditional garb and having him romance his horse?
Aquarela do Brasil
Okay, so, I loved this one. If the whole movie were just this segment, it would have had a much higher rating. The animated watercolor is absolutely gorgeous. I love that Jose Carioca (whom Donald calls “Joe,”) speaks in long strings of Portuguese while Donald Duck, flummoxed, tries to keep up with a pile of dictionaries. This segment seems to capture the very true-to-life generosity Latinos often show to bumbling American tourists; I don’t know enough about the culture to say that Disney nailed it with Jose, although he certainly seems to be a complimentary character, but they definitely got it right with Donald. And as a child, it never really struck me how funny Donald is. I found his crankiness and temper tantrums to be a little frightening. As an adult, we’ve all known someone like this, who is hard to live with — and it’s a relief to laugh at the caricatured depiction of the grumpy customer we’ve had to wait on, or the negative uncle who always ruins Thanksgiving dinner.
Oh, and this segment also features a woman as window dressing.
Live Action Segments
Perhaps the most culturally responsible thing Disney has ever done, the shorts in this film are strung together with footage of the animators and the “locals.” It seems to be a pleasant and flattering portrayal overall, and I like that it gives kids the opportunity to see the reality of Latin America rather than just a bunch of white artists’ interpretation of it. I did bristle a bit at the voice-over referring to Latin American flute music as “strange and exotic.” Also, those fancy three-piece suits the animators were wearing in all the shots looked SO hot and uncomfortable. For a bunch of artists, they sure were stuffy!
All in All
This was an enjoyable enough movie with mostly positive portrayals of the Southern Hemisphere, and maybe even a little accuracy here and there. Nothing much questionable in the messages it sends kids, except perhaps that they should be expected to take on their parents’ dangerous jobs if ill health befalls them. Sheesh!