Disney By The Numbers: The Three Caballeros (1944)

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.

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When The Rescuers Down Under premiered in 1990, Disney promoted it as their “first animated sequel”. This was a big deal because Disney was famous for not repeating itself. That seems like heresy now in the age of Disney Sequels and Remakes, but as a rule, that didn’t happen. This came from Walt himself who remarked after making a disappointing sequel to the Three Little Pigs, that he wouldn’t want to do that again because “you can’t top pigs with pigs.”

None of this apparently applied to The Three Caballeros, because not only is it a sequel that premiered 46 years before Disney’s “first” sequel, but was also apparently an attempt to “top birds with birds.”

And how did Disney try to top Saludos Amigos?

By producing quite possibly the most creative, insane, and frustrating film they’ve probably ever done before or since. During the course of these rewatches, I’ve probably never encountered a film that had me glued to the screen with such interest, while at the same time wanting to look up to see which of the animators were still alive so I could hunt them down and tear down their houses brick by brick while I asked them what the crap they were on in the 40’s!

Seriously, this is the same company that made a movie where Rosanne was a cow that got hypnotized by a yodeling outlaw…

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…Yet somehow the travelogue about Latin America wound up being both more interesting and angry-making. That shouldn’t happen! How does that happen!? Maybe the numbers can shed some light on that.

Storytelling

  • Theme 1
  • Tightness of Script 1
  • Dialogue 1
  • Use of Comedy 1
  • Use of Drama 0

When you watch The Three Caballeros, especially if it’s right after watching Saludos Amigos, your first impression is that it’s a vast improvement over its predecessor.

The framing device in Saludos Amigos was a dry voice-over informing viewers about the Disney Animators trip to South America; it’s as informative as it is dull. In contrast, Three Caballeros‘ frames itself as Donald Duck receiving birthday gifts from his pals in Latin America.

It’s a simple change, but represents a vast improvement, not only does it allow for Donald’s natural charisma to ease us in, but his little bits of comedy lighten things up considerably. By the time he gets to the first short, you’ve all but forgotten that they’re trying to trick you into learning something.

Beyond that, the first couple of shorts aren’t mere travelogues but rather little stories crafted more to give you the flavor of a certain country than entertain knowledge into your head. The Three Caballeros immediately shows promise. While Saludos Amigos was just fine, it also represented a low point in these By the Numbers reviews. After reaching that low, The Three Caballeros feels like we’re coming back to a Good Place.

The first short, The Cold Blooded Penguin is even narrated by Sterling Holloway, who is infinitely more entertaining than a nameless Disney Animator. The short is a cute little story of Pablo the Penguin, that just wants to be warm and sails from Antarctica to the Galapagos Islands. It’s cute, it’s funny it’s narrated by Winnie the Pooh! So all in all things really are feeling like a good old fashioned Disney feature! It almost feels like coming home!

Then, out of nowhere really, things just start to feel a bit off. Like you’re having a nice dream and you watch a pink bubble begin to morph into an elephant…

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But it’s just a passing feeling as we quickly move onto The Flying Gauchito, a charming little tale of a boy and his pet flying donkey named Burrito. While it doesn’t have Winnie the Pooh it’s none-the-less nice fun. The narrrator convey’s the story in an entertaining poem. Donald laughs at the short and we pretty laugh along with him. It almost makes you think that this format they decided to use during this time period has merit! Sure it’s not a Disney film with a full length fairytale narrative, but it has tunes and it has heart!

From there Donald opens another present and Jose Carioca shows up. Jose was easily the best part of Saludos Amigos and he’s a welcome presence here; all your friends are at the good place after all. Once he favors us with his usual, entertaining banter,  Jose treats us to a nice pretty number about the Brazilian state of Bahia. This is why we like Jose and enjoy seeing him again, he’s every bit as suave and entertaining as he ever was…

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… Well that was unexpected. Jose is our lovely affable bird here to-

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… okay… you can stop now Jose. I’m trying to-

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I said… what is happening to this movie?

And that’s when it starts, the silent dread creeping up from the base of your spine, a slight unease that even the comforting presence of Donald Duck can’t quite shake. This is a Disney movie. Sure, there’s the odd Pink Elephants or Heffalumps and Woozels to throw us for a loop, but those are confined to a single sequence. We already got that with the Aracuan…

threecaballerosaracuan

Who is still here in this movie…

But that’s the problem, because around the time that the Aracuan Bird starts breaking the fourth wall and Jose shatters the laws of physics using Black Magic the movie itself forgets that it’s trying to teach us about Latin America, it forgets that it’s actually telling a story itself.

Things only get worse from there and you start to realize that you’re reaching past the point of no return. You’re not watching a movie that will eventually lead you back to the safe shores of Snow White,  Pinocchio, and Bambi! No, because pretty much right there is when you realize that this isn’t a good place…

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Total: 4/15

Music

  • Lyrics 2
  • Score 1
  • Number of Songs 2
  • Notoriety of Songs 2

Okay, sorry, things got a little dark there. You’re going to get the wrong impression. One of the other things going for this movie, especially over Saludos Amigos, is the music. Not only are there more songs in it than the first one, but they’re frankly better. “Baia” is a beautiful number with a lilting melody, the “Three Caballeros” song is catchy as all get out and “Os Quindins de Yayá” is-

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Wait… no… no… not the music too! Donald what are you doing?

Don’t let this distract you from the latin themes and rhythm’s woven into the-

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Donald! You’re girlfriend is Daisy Duck! You have the second most famous romance in all of Disney history! You’re distracting from how good this song is with…

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…inter-species romance… what is this movie!? What even is this movie? I’m so confused how a song about Baia turned into Donald’s quest to get with Carmen Freaking Miranda’s sister! This isn’t “When you Wish Upon a Star,”  or “Whistle While you Work”! This… This…

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Total 8/15

Animation

  • Quality of Animation 3
  • Use Of Color 3
  • House Style 3
  • Character Design 3
  • Breaks New Ground 1

Oh hey! We get to have some high numbers for a change! Saludos Amigos and Dumbo before it brought our overall expectations down a bit which is why the animation in Three Caballeros feels like something else. Yes, much of it is in the same short style as Saludos Amigos, but the use of color, the smart designs of Jose and Pancho Pistoles, and the vivid nature of the animation raises it above its predecessor.

There are sequences that feel almost Fantasia-esque in how creative they can be.

Then there’s the blending of live action with animation as you’ve seen above. This one factor alone gives it a point in breaks new ground, as up to this point, this was the most advanced live action/animation mixed sequence put to film. This was only a year before Jerry Mouse would dance with Gene Kelly but at times it looks closer to Roger Rabbit levels of quality… until it doesn’t.

Unfortunately this live action/animation mixture is a volatile one. It essentially boils down to specfic shots. If it’s human actors, on a real stage, with Jose and Donald mingling amongst them, it looks fantastic. But if the humans are in a cartoon backdrop, interacting with the duo, it essentially looks like they’re staring at  a projector screen. So while the animation varies wildly in quality you have respect the experimentation in…

threecaballeroswtf1

… what the fork was that?

I’m trying to talk about the amazing mix of live action and animation and here they pull something that horrifying. Movie, please… please don’t do this. Not in animation. This is the holy grail of Disney movies, what separates…

threecaballeroswtf2

Oh I get it! I get it! Very cute! I say separates and you go and pull a mind screw like that! This is… this isn’t what I mean by creativity and experimentation! Disney is known for doing that to up the industry standard! Not… not make whatever this is! It’s what separates…

threecaballeroswtf3

I just… I… at least Pink Elephants was an isolated scene… things like this take over the entire back half of the movie! It has nothing to do with Latin America save for some window dressing and it makes no sense at all! But this isn’t what we’re supposed to get in Disney Animation! It’s like someone told Walt Disney that he’d never top Pink Elephants in Dumbo and he responded by saying “Hold my Pixie Dust” and went to South America just to return with this fever dream of a movie!

This is it folks!  The warm comforting animation of the Golden Age is gone and it’s not coming back! It’s vanished from our very eyes, only to be recalled as the halcyon days of yor! When men were men, women were women and Pink Elephants were a quaint gimmick we brought up over afternoon tea! Truly we are lost!

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Repent! REPENT!

Total: 13/15

Love Story

  • Character Interaction 0
  • Importance To Overall Plot 0
  • Complexity 0
  • Pulls At Heartstrings 0
  • Overcomes Obstacles 0

There is no love story. There’s like the opposite of that cause Donald is possessed by some sort of duck shaped demon of lust, trying to make time with anything that walks on two legs and doesn’t have feathers!

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Oh wait, never mind, just anything without feathers. Mother Forker!

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Hero

  • Sidekick 1
  • Charm 1
  • Goodness 0
  • Emotional Transformation 0
  • Comedy 1

Donald isn’t a hero. He’s an occasionally amusing bird thing with two other bird thing sidekicks. He’s going to need serious couples counseling with Daisy and bare minimum shouldn’t be allowed within 200 miles of the southern border! And that should be a Federal Mandate, not one of those pithy State laws. All those red hats want to bill a freaking wall on the Southern Border when all we really need to do is send Donald Duck their way and they’ll run literally run the opposite direction!

Because there’s only one thing you can think when Donald Duck is carousing after real live women

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Total: 3/10

Villain

  • Evilness 0
  • Comedy 0
  • Sophistication 0
  • Henchmen 0
  • Poses A Threat 0

Is there a villain in this movie? In one sense no, but in another more true sense, yes. And his name is Donald Duck!

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Total: 0/10

Supporting Characters

  • Comedy 2
  • Inventiveness 1
  • Clear Help Or Hindrance 1.5
  • Strength of Relationship with Main Character 2

Okay, Okay… I’ll calm down. As crazy making, as aggravating this film can be… It has a good supporting cast. I’ve talked at length about how much fun Jose Carioca is, and he’s every bit as good in this particular outing. But he’s not alone. He’s also joined by Pancho Pistoles, a representative of Mexico, that pumps the energy of this film up to twelve; and it was already at eleven.

Jose and Pancho serve as fantastic…

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Oh for all the… Forget literally everything I ever said about how great any of the Three Caballeros are! Donald should be on a registry somewhere and for as charming and fun as Jose and Pancho can be they also spend about half the movie either enabling Donald’s philandering or literally bullying him! I just… I can’t… WHAT EVEN IS THIS MOVIE!

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Total 6.5/10

Disney Magic and Legacy

  • Theme Park Presence 1
  • Timelessness 1
  • Impact On Culture 1
  • Scope of Audience 1
  • Disney Feels (Or Did It Make us Cry?) 0

Is there Disney Magic in this? No! Jose tells us he’s using Black Magic. Black Magic! The stuff Merlin never touches a Brazilian parrot casually plays with; And let me tell you that it shows! This movie is surreal, mad, and absolutely bonkerballs! The only real legacy that it has is the fact that Jose and Pancho keep showing up in other media like Ducktales or the… randomly Filipino show the “Legend of the Three Caballeros”.

Also they have a ride!

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Oh great, so now animatronic Donald Duck can teach all new generations to not turn their backs on him! Because of all the many, many, properties Disney could have chosen to adapt for a ride they had to choose the one get’s shown at Arkham Asylum as an example of how to be more crazy! And why? Why? WHY?

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No! NO! That is not going to work! Disney is the company of happy childhood memories! Of wishing on stars and happy endings! And sure, things can things can get a little schmaltzy at times. Or they can go the other way and even  get a little dark from time to time, but this isn’t any of those things!

This is a fever dream! It’s the deranged scrawling letters on a hotel wall! This is the result of Walt Disney drinking bad yerba mate in Argentina after being bitten by a rabid street dog with the mange thinking he was being chased by the ghost of Jimminy Cricket wearing a sombrero with Fast Pass tickets to Smuggler’s Run in Galaxy’s Edge which wouldn’t even be built for more than a half century!

Did any of that make sense? Who cares! It doesn’t matter! Because The Three Caballeros is always still going to be there! Waiting. When you’re sitting in the theater watching Frozen 2 somewhere in the back of you’re mind you’re going to remember that this movie was made by the same company that had a Jose Carioca give Donald a hammer so he could kill the guy that was dancing with Carmen Miranda’s sister!

The next time you hear the comforting strains of “When you wish upon a Star” as Tinkerbell sails over the castle, a little voice in your head will remind you that it’s all a lie because there’s a ride in Epcot celebrating the movie where Donald Duck boils all the art, culture, history, and people of Latin America to their Pretty Girls! And you know why? You want to know why? I’ll tell you why!

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….

threecaballerosgeorge

 

Total: 4/10


Grand Total: 43.5

 

So this may seem like a weird question to ask after all of this. But given the low score and my rambling, ranting review… what do I think of The Three Caballeros? Do I hate it? do I wish that it all of the copies of it had been burned enroute to Mexico City where it premiered?

The answer is no.

The thing is, you can’t help but compare Caballeros to Amigos. But the thing about Saludos Amigos, even with the Donald and Goofy shorts is that it’s just… kind of boring. Three Caballeros though? You can call it many things but not boring.

It’s inventive, it’s creative, it pushes the boundaries of animation and film in a way that few other films ever could have. It heightened awareness of Latin American culture and it gave us yet another classic Disney character.

I just might have appreciated if  had been a little more…

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This

And a bit less…

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This

Sure, parts of it make me lose my mind a bit but on the other hand, that sort of thing might have a place in Disney. It’s somewhat refreshing to think that Disney, the most family friendly, safest media company on Earth could produce a movie that’s as completely messed up as Three Caballeros is. Also the ride in Epcot only has a sliver of the insanity so there would be no where to go but up from the movie.

So is Three Caballeros a good movie? I don’t know that it is but I can’t say it isn’t. Is it a good Disney movie? Not in the traditional sense, and not for the purposes of our rankings, but every now and again something that breaks the mold is better than something that plays it safe.

Or maybe this movie has just given me a case of the crazies and I don’t know what’s what anymore.

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