Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#6: Saludos Amigos (1942)

'Saludos Amigos' was the first of six of Disney's "package" films, which is basically a collection of shorts tied to a certain theme. Their later ones would have more to do with an understaffed studio due to World War II, but this picture was government sanctioned, believe it or not. Before the US entered the war, the Disney crew was sent to South America to create a movie as a gesture of good will as part of the Good Neighbor Policy. Several Latin American governments had close ties with Nazi Germany, and the US government wanted to counteract those ties, and who better to do it than Goofy and Donald Duck? As the original plan was to just release the shorts, this is the shortest film Disney ever produced, just barely reaching the forty-minute running time required for such a project to be CALLED a film.

The movie is divided into four shorts, most of them in tone and animation akin to a classic Disney short subject. First is Donald Duck's escapes through Lake Titicaca accompanied by a narrator giving information about the land. Donald, in true fashion, gets into a bunch of trouble, attempts to cross a rickety bridge with a llama, plays music with a local child, and of course gets hurt a lot. It's about as amusing as you're going to get. The second is about a small Chilean airplane named Pedro's mission to pick up air mail over the towering Andes mountains. It's rather bland, and nothing to really write home about. ...heh heh, mail joke.

The third short puts American cowboy Goofy into the poncho of a gaucho (the South American equivalent). Along with his trusty horse, he must learn the basics of the role, and of course, hilarity ensues. This is almost like a prototype of the "average suburban man" Goofy cartoons of the 50s, where a calm narration is heard over Goofy's disastrous, and often painful antics, which I've always enjoyed. It's a good segment, well-paced and amusing. There's a particularly great scene of Goofy riding done in slow motion, which is always a pain to animate but looks great regardless. The last short is probably the best, beginning with a great sequence of a watercolor scenery being painted in to the tune of samba music. Each beat is emphasized in the painted-in visuals, all vibrantly colored and a treat to the eyes. Then Donald Duck meets up with a Brazilian local, parrot Jose Carioca, who teaches him how to get into the rhythm. A great bit involves Jose giving an impassioned speech in Portuguese, leaving Donald to furiously thumb through several translation dictionaries to keep up.

Inter-cut between each short is live-action footage of the Disney artists, animators and musicians flying to Central and South America, seeing the sights and sketching out what they see. It's pretty interesting to see Walt and his crew in the flesh at work, giving each segment a bit of a frame of reference. It's also fun to see the local marveling over the artists' work. I know I would.

Verdict? For what it is, it's good, I suppose. I mean, I can't exactly compare it to the movies before it. It's pretty interesting to see if you know the intriguing story behind it, which you should if you've been paying attention. The film went over pretty well in Latin America (although some Chileans were kinda pissed, and I don't blame 'em. All they got was a stupid airplane), leading Disney to do a follow-up 'The Three Caballeros.' ...hey, that one's up next!

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