Monday, April 25, 2011

Disney's Saludos Amigos

OK, so imagine that you are America. You are in wartime in 1942, and besides fighting the Germans, Japanese, Italians, and several other countries in Europe, you have to worry about several South American countries that have ties to Nazi Germany. If you are America what do you do? Send dignitaries to coax those countries into supporting the allies? Send them a fruit basket? Well, if you were America, you wouldn’t do any of those things. You would send Walt Disney to sever those ties to Nazi Germany. And as part of that trip, Walt Disney would make an animated film devoted to those South American countries. Bet you didn’t see that coming! But this is exactly what the United States did. They realized that Mickey Mouse and the other Disney characters were extremely popular in South America and decided that having Walt Disney go down to these countries and make a movie would be a great way to counteract the ties those countries had with Nazi Germany. You didn’t realize how important Mickey Mouse was to fighting the Nazi’s, did you? Walt and a group of roughly twenty composers, artists, technicians, etc. from his studio went to South America, mainly to Brazil and Argentina, but also to Chile and Peru. Luckily for Walt, the film itself was given federal loan guarantees from the government. Disney studios had just run into a rough patch; Bambi did OK, the European market was closed, and the studio was currently dealing with labor disputes. Disney needed this movie to do well.

The movie that resulted from the Goodwill tour was Saludos Amigos, or Hello, Friends in English. It was first of Disney’s package films in the 1940’s and takes place completely in South America. When I say that it is a package film, I mean that it is not just one feature, so to speak, but a film made up of several segments. In this case, Saludos Amigos has four segments. The film is partly animated and partly live actions, sometimes at the same time. Outside of the main four segments, there is an intro segment for each individual segment that shows the Disney artists and composers walking around the South American countries.

The first segment focuses on Peru and specifically Lake Titicaca…hee hee hee! Oh…sorry. I forgot that I’m an adult. This segment, like all the others are not pure entertainment. You will probably learn something about the culture of these South American countries. This segment stars Donald Duck and his troubles with a belligerent Llama. Hilarity ensues. Seriously though, Donald never gets old. That’s why I like this feature and the next, The Three Caballeros, so much, as they mainly star Donald.

The next segment is an all animated feature starring Pedro, a small plane that delivers mail in Chile. Pedro has to deliver mail from Santiago to Mendoza since Pedro’s mother and father couldn’t fly the route. This is a typical Disney type cartoon with the “Goofy narrator.” If you’ve seen many Goofy cartoons, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Since Pedro doesn’t talk, the narrator does all the talking. To get to Mendoza, he has to fly over the Andes. This proves difficult for Pedro and he gets into trouble. I won’t spoil what happens in this segment, so you’ll just have to see this movie. Incidentally, some Chileans, namely cartoonist René Ríos Boettiger, who felt that Pedro gave Americans a negative view of Chileans and made his own comic, Condorito, to counteract the film. Why get offended by a cartoon plane? Pedro is portrayed as a small, incapable being.

The next segment features Goofy, who is learning about the ways of the Gaucho in Argentina. A gaucho is basically a cowboy, but a South American version of a cowboy. Goofy, though it takes him awhile, learns the ins and outs of the ways of the gaucho, including what attire to wear, how to cook and prepare food in the wild, and how to catch an ostrich. Again, we have a narrator moving the story along.

The movie’s last segment deals with Brazil, namely Rio. This is another Donald segment that has him meet up with Jose Carioca, a Brazilian parrot. In this segment we are introduced to the samba and Carnival, a week long celebration that is filled with music, dancing, and plenty of alcohol. Jose Carioca is a great character and is basically dressed like a Brazilian ladies man. If you enjoy seeing old Jose, don't worry, he's in Disney's next feature The Three Caballeros, then Melody Time, a part of the jury in Alice in Wonderland, and has a small cameo in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Saludos Amigos might seem a bit dated now, but it's still great fun to watch. Since the movie mainly focuses on cultural heritage, most things mentioned in the movie are still celebrated or practiced in Chile, Brazil, Argentina, and Peru. If you feel like learning more about South America and it's culture, especially it's music, check this movie out. This is unfortunately one of those movies that gets forgotten since it's less for kids, but it's still worth a watch. The movie did well in theaters and was popular enough to lead Disney to make The Three Caballeros two years later. The movie did garner mixed reviews for it's lack of appeal to children however, but at least did well despite criticisms.

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