Thursday, June 30, 2011

Our Feature Presentation (23/50) -- The Three Caballeros (1944)

The Three Caballeros is the sister picture to Saludos Amigos, but the two could not be more different. While Saludos is a slight, low key film made mostly of cartoon shorts, Caballeros is a bat guano-loco mind-f@$# of a picture made mostly of The Insanity Peppers of Quetzlzacatenango. It does play host to some interesting live action/animation blending, and there are a few straightforward, amusing bits, but MAN this film is weird.

The Three Caballeros opens with Donald Duck receiving a large box of birthday presents from a Spanish someone. The first present is a projector, where Donald watches a few short segments on Latin American birds. The movie seems on track to be similar to its Latin predecessor (slight, segmented, reasonably charming), when who should appear but Jose Carioca (Jose Oliveira), the green, cigar-smoking parrot from Saludos’s concluding segment. Carioca shrinks Donald with some sort of drink (seven years before Alice in Wonderland, might I add), and the two explore a pop-up book about Bahia, Brazil, where Donald becomes quite taken with a Portuguese seller of cookies (uh huh).

Sure do love those Tagalongs, huh fellas?

After an MC-Escher-by-way-of-chalkboard train ride, the two arrive back in Donald’s living room, where they open the next present: a hyper-active, pistol-toting rooster named Panchito (Joaquin Garay). The three announce themselves as The Three Caballeros (hence the title), and celebrate with a piƱata. Panchito then takes Donald and Jose to Veracruz, where the three dance and Donald becomes increasingly lecherous throughout. The two finally pull Donald off of the dance floor, only to take him on a flying sarape to Acapulco, where Donald goes positively Tex Avery Wolf on the Latin bathing suit beauties. It’s not meant to be, though; Donald merely ends up kissing Jose instead.

Here’s where the movie goes throws all semblance of sense out the window. Donald finally meets the girl of his dreams (for reals this time!), and her kiss sends him on an enormous LSD trip, finding her face in all of the flowers, only for it to turn to Panchito or Jose at the last minute. The onslaught of colors, sounds, and general buggery culminates in Donald dancing with several fields of cactus, before turning into a bull made of fireworks. The film then ends abruptly, as though no conclusion could possibly wrap up the phantasmagoria that was the last twenty minutes.

Your love, your love, your love is my drug(s).

I saw The Three Caballeros once when I was a kid, and didn’t remember much outside of the Acapulco scene before I rewatched it for this series. Holy buckets, this movie is EFF’D. More than Fantasia, more than Alice in Wonderland, The Three Caballeros is a pure D head film, worthy of shelf space next to 2001: A Space Odyssey and Good-Time Slim, Uncle Doobie and the Great ‘Frisco Freak-Out. The bright colors, rapidly-shifting scenes, and general lack of sense make this a prime candidate for movies watched while listening to a Sublime album. This is well and good for the gent that enjoys expanding his or her world through the art of cinema, but that’s not me—I watch movies to escape, and there are few places in The Three Caballeros I would like to escape to, if only because it would confuse the bejeezus out of me.

Most of my experience watching The Three Caballeros was spent in slack-jawed befuddlement, but there were a few places I truly, legitimately enjoyed myself. The opening sequence, a story of a too-cold penguin named Pablo, is my favorite in the whole film. Narrated by Sterling Holloway (!!!), Pablo goes through unsuccessful attempt after unsuccessful attempt to leave his frozen home of the North Pole for Acapulco. It’s a fun mix of broad comedy and Holloway’s trademark dry, observational humor.

The segment before Jose comes in, "The Flying Gauchito," isn't bad either.

I also love the song “The Three Caballeros.” In a movie whose music is largely uninteresting to me (not much of a samba guy), “The Three Caballeros” is a punchy, enjoyable tune bursting over with energy and melody. The lyrics are pretty fun too:

We're three caballeros
Three gay caballeros
They say we are birds of a feather
We're happy amigos
No matter where he goes
The one, two, and three goes
We're always together

We're three happy chappies
With snappy serapes
You'll find us beneath our sombreros
We're brave and we'll stay so
We're bright as a peso
Who says so? We say so!
The three caballeros!

The rest of the music is samba, which was never my favorite (too much Latin jazz in high school band), but oh man, that song is fun.

Three is a magic number.

The animation is pretty standard for the time: Walt was thigh-deep in World War II, forcing him to dial back his patented quality of animation for the sake of finishing the damn thing. It’s no coincidence the film looks like an extended short—production-wise, it is basically an extended short. There are a few nifty sequences where live action and animation interact, and these are pretty hit or miss. Some, like when Donald is acting a mutha-f@$#in’ P.I.M.P. up in Acapulco, look pretty good, but others, like when Jose sings with the cookie saleswoman, look slightly painful.

If you’re of the opinion that Disney needs to venture outside its box constructed of princesses and Broadway musicals, you may want to give The Three Caballeros a shot—its complete and total strangeness may be endearing for you. I sure as hell know I’m not going to watch it again for a while; there are many reasons why I may sit down to enjoy a movie, and having a mind-altering experience to a Sergio Mendez song isn’t necessarily one of them.

Top Three Songs:

  1. “The Three Caballeros”
  2. “Have You Been to Baia”
  3. “You Belong to My Heart”

Favorite Scene:

  • The Cold-Blooded Penguin

Favorite Character:

  • Pablo

The Jar Jar:

  • The Arancuan Bird

How I Watched It

While both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros are available separately on DVD, I opted for this two-film package, partly because it’s convenient, but mostly because it was less expensive. Despite being basically brand new (it was released in 2008), the picture could use a little clean-up, especially during the live-action/animation scenes. This could very well be the fault of the source material, however.

Bonus materials are sparse. The DVD has two Backstage Disney features: “South of the Border with Disney,” which is basically Saludos Amigos Reloaded, and an excerpt from an interview with Walt Disney for CBC (a Canadian news channel, for the non-canuck reader). Also included are two Donald Duck shorts, “Don Donald” from 1937 and “Contrary Condor” from 1944. Slim pickings, considering how often The Three Caballeros has been rereleased.

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