One Man, One Woman, Eight Decades of Disney Animated Features watched in order, and the overly complex system they invented to grade them. These are our thoughts, rants, and observations.
This is Disney by the Numbers.
I’d never seen Saludos Amigos growing up.
Well, actually that’s only half true
Saludos Amigos is the first of the “package films”- a group of Disney movies produced primarily during World War II which, instead of presenting an entire cohesive film, they’re a series of shorts vaguely strung together by a framing device… most the time.
As such, I’d seen each of the various shorts that made up the content of Saludos Amigos, but never the entire film itself. And let me tell you, it… certainly… happened…
This isn’t the first Disney Film to feature this format. Fantasia has much the same format, a series of shorts tied together by a concert explaining each segment before they occur. With Fantasia, this formula supplied some of the best visuals, iconography, and musical moments of any Disney film. So how does another film like that fair?
To the numbers!
- Theme 2
- Tightness of Script 1
- Dialogue 1
- Use of Comedy 2
- Use of Drama 1
Ordinarily, I try not to get too deep into the production of each particular film until I’m either at the Legacy Section or in my closing thoughts. With Saludos Amigos, I have to address it because the production history is the story.
While each of the shorts are unrelated to one another, they’re tied together by narration and live action footage of Disney Animators, and Walt himself, taking a trip across South America. The film lets us know right away that it’s showing us the fruits of this labor. Before we see a scene about Donald Duck touring a village in the Andes, we see the animators sketching various people living there. Before we see a short about Goofy playing gaucho (Argentinian cowboy) we see the animators observing the genuine article and partaking in an Asado (Argentine barbeque).
With that as our framing device, we can’t ignore the production entirely.
Which is a shame because what is shown to us is the least interesting part of that story.
Walt and Co weren’t simply taking a working vacation in South America. Instead, they toured Latin America as part of a goodwill campaign sponsored by the government. The thought behind it being that if Disney were to tour and make movies about South America, they’d remember they liked our guy with a weird mustache better than Germany’s genocidal guy with a weird mustache.
Beyond that, Walt was personally escaping his own studio which was embroiled in a vicious animators strike. He had tried to end the strike himself but only further infuriated his workers and things only escalated until the point were he had to be physically torn off the creator of Goofy. With the strike’s end nowhere in sight, Walt took the chance to leave the country and let his brother Roy manage while he sat things out.
None of this made it into the film. Instead, an even voice informs us of the trip, shows us footage of animators watching thing happening, and then sketching them all the while telling us “this is what happens when you let animators loose in your city” as if that was something funny or interesting.
The problem is that it isn’t.
Animation can be fun and scary and exciting… watching it done is not really any of those things. So once you get past that, each individual short is… fine. Only one of them really tells a story while the other three more or less show a bunch of gags involving Donald and Goofy being introduced to various South American customs or places.
They’re funny enough, but not especially amazing. The final segment is easily the best but we’ll get to that in further sections.
- Lyrics 1
- Score 1
- Number of Songs 1
- Notoriety of Songs 0
We’re a long ways from the days of “Heigh Ho” and “When You Wish Upon A Star”, people.
Even Bambi, with its more incidental music scored better than this.
Saludos Amigos really only has three songs in it. The opening credits song “Saludos Amigos”, a gaucho lullaby sung by ‘Goofy’, and “Aquarela do Brazil.” Of the three of them, “Aquarela do Brazil” is probably the best as it’s the only one with any of the Disney flair or energy.
The rest of the music offers some of the feel of the regions the shorts are exploring but nothing in the film even approaches the high marks that were previously set or would eventually come.
- Quality of Animation 1.5
- Use Of Color 3
- House Style 2
- Character Design 3
- Breaks New Ground 0.5
Remember back when Dumbo was the low point for Disney Animation? Good times. Good times.
It’s not that the animation in Saludos Amigos has bad animation. It has the trademark quality of Disney Animation… just of the animated shorts. Walt Disney Productions had really upped, not only its game, but that of the entire industry with its animated features. Walt hired the best animators, spent top dollar to make them the best…
And he nearly bankrupted the company doing it.
By the time Bambi premiered the Studio had changed. Disney owed millions to the Bank of America, who refused to let them produce another expensive feature like Snow White or Pinocchio, the animator’s strike was in full swing, many of the animators that hadn’t many of the animators had been drafted for the war, and the military had essentially taken over the studio because it lied near a Boeing plant.
The immediate result of this was that films like Saludos Amigos were the only kind Disney could produce. Which still meant that it had highly fluid, colorful, and inventive animation. But it’s missing the depth, the detail, the rich shading that we’ve come to expect in Disney films. Unfortunately, Disney would continue in this mold for nearly an entire decade so that’s something to get used to.
But this isn’t to say there are no redeeming qualities in the animation of Saludos Amigos.
While the first three shorts basically feel like any other Disney short, the last one Aquelero do Brazil, really does shine. The short starts by showing us various scenes from Brazil which proceed to morph and transform under a painters brush right before our eyes. The fluidity and creativity of animation recall hints of Pink Elephants but rather than trying to creep the audience out, it serves to showcase the transformative nature of animation and film that no live action picture could ever attempt.
But don’t take my word for it! Look! Flower Flamingos!
Venus Flytrap Donald Duck!
- Character Interaction 0.5
- Importance To Overall Plot 0
- Complexity 0
- Pulls At Heartstrings 0
- Overcomes Obstacles 0
Saludos Amigos’ four shorts serve as travelogues of South America and offering little slices of culture. Which is great, but none of them really have anything to do with love. Sure… the story of Pedro the Mail Plane, establishes that he has parents, but they don’t really matter to his story and they barely interact. So half a point is pretty much the best we can do here.
Other than that, the closest thing we have to a love story in this film is… this…
- Sidekick 1
- Charm 0.5
- Goodness 0
- Emotional Transformation 0
- Comedy 2
The film has Donald Duck and Goofy, so it would be impossible for it to not score any points in Hero category. Each of these characters are famous for hijinks and comedy, and they keep Saludos Amigos from feeling like an animated slide show of Walt Disney’s South American Vacation.
That said, there’s only so much Donald and Goofy can do, and while both are funny, they don’t really deliver much in the other categories. Pedro the Mail Plane is fine but he’s not much more than the little engine that could, but in the air.
So all in al,l a pretty low score for heroes. Maybe a good old fashioned Disney Villain will shake things up
- Evilness 0
- Comedy 0
- Sophistication 0
- Henchmen 0
- Poses A Threat 0.5
Ohhhh… not even a Chernobog or T-Rex here. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the film, there was even less an opportunity for villains than there was in Fantasia. Beyond that, when the world was full of real actual villains like the ones that ran the Axis powers… it probably felt unnecessary to invent new ones.
The closest thing Saludos Amigos manages is this guy
Aconcagua, the mountain that menaces Pedro during his mail run. But Aconcagua isn’t really a character. He’s a scary face in a mountain. So we manage a half point for being threatening but can’t really do much else. Sorry, Amigos.
- Comedy 2
- Inventiveness 2
- Clear Help Or Hindrance 1
- Strength of Relationship with Main Character 1
Oh, oh good. Well at least the supporting character category is here to lend a hand.
Sure, Goofy and Donald are the unquestioning stars of this show. But they’re not really the main draw. No the main reason to watch Saludos Amigos is, and always has been one of the characters created specifically for this feature. None other than José Carioca himself.
Donald Duck is usually all you need to sell an animated segment. He’s got character falling out of his butt, and the fact that he’s utterly upstaged by José says a lot . Donald is completely befuddled and enchanted by his new pal even as he’s being drawn.
He’s even more confused when José springs to life, firing off a mile a minute before whisking him off to Brazil to engage in some culture which involves some sort of Brazilian fire water and dancing the Samba.
The scenes with José are easily the most vibrant, colorful, and entertaining of the film with José himself easily stealing the show. Considering that Donald had stolen Mickey’s crown as top animated character, that’s saying something!
Disney Magic and Legacy 2/10
- Theme Park Presence 0
- Timelessness 1
- Impact On Culture 0
- Scope of Audience 1
- Disney Feels (Or Did It Make us Cry?) 0
The goal in making Saludos Amigos was to get Walt out of the studio during the strike and promote international peace in the Americas. If those were the goals, then, Saludos Amigos achieved that in spades.
The trip took months, and by the time Walt returned to the United States, Roy had settled the strike and mollified the bankers. Walt accepted the new status quo and resumed work on any projects he could, though his heart wasn’t in it like before. Slowly, even as these package films began eeking out, he’d already set his mind in direction no one expected from the master of Animation.
Its immediate effect was also along the stated goals of producing something that the people of Latin America would love. Saludos Amigos, did perfectly fine in the United States, but South of the Border it was a massive hit. Crowds lined up for hours to see it with some going so far as to threaten to burn the theater to the ground if they didn’t offer more showings.
José Carioca to this day is a mainstay character in the Disney animated canon, reappearing in shorts, tv shows, and specials whenever his particular brand of class, fun, and unpredictability are necessary.
Furthermore, Saludos Amigos stands the test of time. The United States, and Disney itself, doesn’t exactly have a great track record of depicting foreign countries. Given the time period when the film was produced, it would be easy to imagine that the animators would have portrayed South America as uncivilized and backwards. But on the contrary, it shows actual footage of the sprawling cities in Brazil and is sure to inform American viewers that this is a normal thing down there.
The movie never really tugs at the heartstrings but it isn’t really trying to so while that is a key ingredient in Disney movies, we’re not counting that against it as to whether it’s a good or bad movie, it’s just lacking a certain few things.
Grand Total 32.5
Saludos Amigos was never going to score particularly well. The lack of a unified story, the absence of villains and music numbers, all work to diminish this movie’s potential to stand tall amongst the Great Disney features.
It certainly isn’t a bad movie. For what it is, it’s actually rather nice. The depictions of Donald and Goofy were some of my first exposures to South American culture. I never thought I needed to know what a gaucho was, but years later when I lived in Argentina for a time I could recognize a gaucho on sight; largely thanks to Goofy’s segment.
All that said, if you’re looking to watch this film, I’d argue you could skip watching it end to end and just watch the shorts. The extra bits of runtime aren’t worth it to hear a narrator act like cartoonists in South America are some sort of wild menace.
No, no Mr Narrator, they’re not, but we can at least rest assured that none of the actual interesting stuff that was going on behind the camera ever made it there.
Need more Amigos in your life? Something sweet and spicy? Try MainStreetBaker’s Saludos Amigos inspired dish ‘The Happiest Plates On Earth’: Tropical Fruit Ceviche with Spicy Chimichurri and Salted Tostones- Inspired by ‘Saludos Amigos’