Cast & Crew
On his birthday, which is on Friday the thirteenth, Donald Duck receives a large package from his friends in Latin America, and upon opening the box, finds a number of small gifts inside. The first present contains a projector and a reel of film, bearing the title Aves raras (strange birds). The film introduces a penquin named Pablo who lives at the South Pole but longs for a warmer climate. With the help of his friends, Pablo gets his wish and, accompanied by his beloved pot-bellied stove, sails to the Galapagos Islands. The film continues with comic glimpses of exotic birds such as toucans, flamingoes and the crazy Aracuan, whose antics include running out of the frame and off the filmstrip. An old Uruguayan gaucho then narrates the story of yet another "strange bird": a fabulous flying donkey, which the gaucho discovered when he was a young boy. The playful "Burrito" and "Gauchito" become friends despite the donkey's aversion to being ridden, and the boy dreams of making a fortune with his new pal. Gauchito enters Burrito in a race at a grand fiesta, and despite a slow start, the pair easily win with the help of Burrito's wings. When the crowd sees Burrito flying, however, the pals are labeled cheaters and are forced to make a hasty retreat. Donald's next gift is a book bearing the title Brasil , from which emerges his old friend, Brazilian parrot Joe Carioca. Joe asks Donald whether he has ever been to Baía, in Brazil, and when Donald replies that he has not, Joe sings a romantic song describing the area, then takes Donald with him into the book. They visit Baía and listen with rapt attention as a lovely cookie seller sings about her wares. Donald and Joe happily join the vendor and her dancing friends, and Donald is overjoyed when she bestows a kiss upon him in return for a bouquet. Upon leaving the book and returning to Donald's house, the duck and parrot must blow themselves back up to normal size, a task that infuriates Donald. He finally opens his next gift, however, which is labeled México and contains Panchito, a charro rooster. Although they are slightly overwhelmed by their riotous new acquintence, Donald and Joe join Panchito in a rousing rendition of "The Three Caballeros," a song describing their friendship. Panchito gives Donald a piñata, then tells his companions about Las Posadas , a Mexican celebration of Christmas, in which children recreate Mary and Joseph's search for shelter in Bethlehem. Upon being welcomed into a warm home, the children enjoy a feast and a treat-filled piñata. Donald then breaks open his piñata and releases a flood of surprises, including a flying serape on which the three caballeros embark on an aerial tour of Mexico. They visit Patzcuaro, "a fisherman's paradise"; Vera Cruz, where they watch dancers perform the "Lilongo"; and Acapulco, where Donald cavorts with bathing beauties on the beach. In Mexico City, Donald loses himself in a romantic fantasy when a beautiful woman sings "You Belong to My Heart," then attempts to join in as another lovely woman dances the "Zandunga" and the "Jesusita." Joe and Panchito finally rouse Donald from his reverie and engage him in a mock bullfight. The fake bull is stuffed with fireworks, and when Donald butts heads with it, the fireworks explode across the night sky, spelling out "The End" in Spanish, Portuguese and English.
Ascencio Del Rio Trio
Padua Hills Players
Joao De Barro
Ernesto M. Cortázar
Donald Da Gradi
Richard F. Irvine
C. O. Slyfield
Paul J. Smith
The Three Caballeros
The year was 1941, and the hostilities in Europe had shut down crucial economic markets upon which American business had depended. Rockefeller's mission was to open up new economic opportunities in Latin America to replace the lost ones in Europe. That, and there were was the little matter of all those German and Italian immigrants in Latin America, whose ethnic allegiances threatened to create Axis sympathies right at America' s doorstep. In other words, there was a dual mission: open up Latin American markets, and encourage the region to think of its common bonds with its neighbor to the north before thinking of any bonds to the fascist monsters to the east.
How best to achieve these lofty goals, you ask? Well, cartoon animals, of course.
And so it came to pass that Mr. John Hay Whitney, Rockefeller's representative on behalf of the Motion Picture Division of the CIAA, went to Walt Disney and urged him to take a goodwill tour of Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Brazil. The world loves your films, Mr. Disney, you're an ideal ambassador for American values in these trying times.
Perhaps under different circumstances, Disney might have eagerly accepted the assignment. But 1941 was an awfully tough year for Walt. Sure, the world loved his films--but they were insanely expensive things to make, and took years. And when the war cut off so much of the European market, it decimated his revenues. Other film studios could cut budgets to try to make ends meet, but there was a certain threshold below which he could not go and still turn out the colorful animated fantasies that audiences expected. He was facing crippling debts, and his artistic staff was picketing for higher wages. Disney told the feds he simply could not afford to go gallivanting around Central and Southern America on a lark.
To sweeten the pot, Whitney agreed to put up $70,000 towards Disney's travel expenses. On top of that, he said that if Disney made some short films during or inspired by the tour, aimed at Latin American audiences, he would promise advance payments of $50,000 per short for up to five shorts.
In August, four months before the attack on Pearl Harbor would bring the U.S. formally into the war, Disney set off to Rio de Janeiro with his wife and a team of crack artists and story developers. He had visions of making as many as twelve Latin-themed shorts, but the tour was still in its early days when Disney worked out a new plan in correspondence with fellow movie mogul David O. Selznick: he would package together sets of four shorts with travelogue footage from the tour to make a sort of ad hoc feature film. Features made more money than shorts, and Disney's flow of features was stuttering thanks to his debts and the artists' strike. He'd already experimented with mixing live action and animated shorts in the form of The Reluctant Dragon (1941). That experiment had not been especially well-received critically, but it was a decent enough proof of concept.
The first Latin package film, Saludos Amigos, came out in 1943. The Three Caballeros was the second film in the cycle.
In general terms, The Three Caballeros resembled its predecessor. Saludos Amigos paired Donald Duck with a samba-loving parrot named Jose Carioca, so the "sequel" brings back both Donald and Jose and adds a third caballero in the form of a gun-happy rooster named Panchito. There is a loose narrative framework in the form of Donald birthday gifts from friends in Latin America--and so the otherwise disconnected sequences unfold with Donald as an onscreen audience surrogate.
The Disney team developed other sequences, such as "The Laughing Gauchito" and "San Blas Boy," in anticipation of future films. In all, Disney's team mapped out as many as ten additional Latin-themed segments that were never completed. Donald and Jose were reunited in "Blame it on the Samba," which had actually been shot for a planned third film that would have sent them to Cuba, but was ultimately screened as part of a different "package" film called Melody Time.
Neither Saludos Amigos nor The Three Caballeros were warmly received by the press. Bosley Crowther, the influential reviewer from The New York Times called it "a firecracker show which dazzles and numbs the senses without making any tangible sense." This was among the nicer things that critics said about it. For his part, Walt Disney himself was happy to see the back of these--he rankled at working on commission, no matter how noble the motive. He'd fulfilled his obligation to the State Department and was free to return to developing the fairy tales that were closest to his heart. With Germany's surrender a few months after Three Caballeros opened, and the end of the war worldwide by year's end, the markets available for Disney to reach were looking more expansive, and hungry, than ever before.
Which is not to say that Disney left the package films behind--there were more of those yet to come (the aforementioned Melody Time, Make Mine Music, and Fun & Fancy Free). The legacy of Three Caballeros was felt more importantly however in other ways. Because if you ignored the critics and asked Disney's artistic staff (like Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, or Mary Blair) what they thought of Three Caballeros, you'd find that they considered it one of the most daring and experimental of works.
The Three Caballeros indulged in surreal and psychedelic imagery, three-dimensional animation, limited animation, and the most extensive and technically challenging mixing of live action with animation the studio had ever attempted.
Previous works like The Reluctant Dragon and Saludos Amigos simply alternated between live-action sequences and cartoon segments, but Three Caballeros put both on screen at once in the same frame. There was precedent for this. Back in the days before the advent of Mickey Mouse, a young Walt Disney had developed the Alice Comedies in which a live young girl cavorted with cartoon pals in a cartoon universe.
For Three Caballeros, however, the technical staff pulled out the stops to design a way for live actors and cartoons to interact on sets that are both partially "real" and partially animated. The layering of elements was unprecedented in scope.
This led to another source of some critical discomfort, as some reviewers were discomfited by the sight of Donald Duck lusting after live human women like Brazilian singer Aurora Miranda. The idea that a two-dimensional drawing of a cartoon animal could be given enough life by the artists and integrated so thoroughly into the same frame as Miranda that his interest in her feels real enough to be kind of icky is itself a testament to the skill of the Disney team and a sign they were genuinely doing something new. The sequence in which Miranda kisses Donald, triggering orgasmic explosions of color and spiraling phallic shapes as her dancers transform into fighting roosters (insert your own synonym for "rooster" here as needed) can be called a lot of things--risque, bizarre, colorful, gonzo, tasteless--but certainly not familiar, and anything but conventional.
Having explored these techniques in the low-stakes environment of Three Caballeros, the Disney team was in a position to use them with greater mastery in subsequent pictures like Song of the South (1946) and Mary Poppins (1964).
By David Kalat
Christopher Finch, The Art of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse to the Magic Kingdom.
Leonard Maltin, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons.
Charles Solomon, The Disney That Never Was.
Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life.
The Three Caballeros
Frank Thomas (1912-2004)
He was born on September 5, 1912 in Santa Monica, California. He showed an interest in art and drawing at a very young age, so it came as no surprise when he graduated from Stanford University in 1934 with a degree in art. Soon after, he began work for Walt Disney Studios and did his first animation for the short Mickey's Elephant in 1936, and was one of the key animators for the studios' first, feature-length animated picture, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). His memorable creations of the seven dwarfs offered an emotional sweep and humorous detail to animated characters that audiences had never experienced before, and his career was set.
Thomas' work from this point on would be nothing short of the high watermarks in Disney animation that is justly cherished the world over: the title character in Pinocchio, (1940); Thumper teaching Bambi to skate in Bambi (1941); the wicked stepmother in Cinderella (1950), the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (1951), the terrific fight sequence between Captain Hook and Peter Pan in Peter Pan (1953); the Lady and Rover falling in love over a dish of spaghetti and meatballs in Lady and the Tramp (1955); the three good fairies in Sleeping Beauty (1959); Baloo, Mowgli and Kaa in The Jungle Book (1967); and his final work of Bernard and Bianca in the underrated The Rescuers (1977).
Thomas retired from Disney in early 1978, ending a near 44-year relationship with the studio. With longtime friend, and fellow Disney collaborator Ollie Johnston, they went on to author many fine books about the art of animation, most notably Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life (Hyperian Press, 1978) and The Disney Villain (Hyperion Press, 1993). He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Jeanette; sons Thomas, Doug and Gregg; daughter Ann Ayers; and three grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Frank Thomas (1912-2004)
This movie, and _Saludos Amigos (1943)_ were created by Disney in order to gain better relations with South American countries during WW2.
The working titles of this film were Surprise Package, Latin for a Day, Latino por un dia, and Let's Go Latin. The names of Panchito, Joe Carioca and Donald Duck, who are "The Three Caballeros," appear onscreen above the title. Norman Ferguson's onscreen credit reads "Production supervision and direction."
The Three Caballeros was the second entry in the Walt Disney Studio's "Good Neighbor" project, the first of which was the 1943 release Saludos Amigos. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, studio records contained in the Walt Disney Archives and information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, The Three Caballeros combines live-action footage shot for the picture and previously developed short cartoons with Latin-American themes. Two of the shorts, "The Flying Gauchito" (or "The Remarkable Donkey") and "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" (or "Pablo Penguin"), were produced simultaneously with Saludos Amigos. "The Flying Gauchito" was based on material that studio artists had gathered in South America during their 1941 trip. After its completion, Disney had planned to release it as part of a series of short cartoons about gauchos, but none of the other shorts were completed.
In August 1942, Hollywood Reporter announced that producer Walt Disney was planning to make a film on Mexico, although the news item did not specify whether the film would be a feature or a short, or consist solely of animation. A group of studio artists visited Mexico from late 1942 through early 1943, auditioning Mexican performers and making sketches and paintings to be used as reference material. On July 14, 1943, Hollywood Reporter noted that production supervisor Norman Ferguson was leading studio artists on another tour of Mexico City to gather Mexican reference materials, which were eventually used for The Three Caballeros. In addition, at the request of the U.S. government, the studio produced a series of non-theatrical shorts, for distribution in Mexico and South America, demonstrating how to combat illiteracy, malnutrition and various diseases. According to an February 18, 1945 Los Angeles Times article, Disney had also intended to produce a third "Latin-American film," entitled Cuban Carnival, but that picture was not produced.
The Three Caballeros contains a significant amount of live-action footage, which was shot at the Walt Disney Studio in Burbank, CA. Although Disney had previously combined live-action and animation in both shorts and features, The Three Caballeros marked the first time that they were fully integrated into extended sequences. According to modern sources, for some sequences, the live performers were photographed in front of rear projection of the animated characters, while for other scenes, the live actors were photographed first and the animation was added later. According to Hollywood Reporter news items, the live-action footage of the Mexican performers was shot between April 1943 and February 1944. The last major live-action sequence to be filmed for the production was "Acapulco," which used aerial shots photographed by the second unit in Mexico, but was otherwise filmed in the Disney Studio parking lot. The live shots of the bathing women were filmed in January-February 1944, then combined with animation of Donald Duck. Although Harold Young is credited onscreen only with direction of the Mexican second unit, studio records indicate that he assisted Ferguson in supervising the "beach" sequence at the studio. Only brief location shots of Mexico, filmed in Patzcuaro, Veracruz and Acapulco by Young, are seen in the finished picture.
An August 1944 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Mexican singer Carlos Ramirez, who was borrowed from M-G-M for the production, was scheduled to "voice the part of one of the caballeros, and sing 'Mexico.'" In the finished film, however, Ramirez only sings "Mexico." The voice of Panchito was provided by Joaquin Garay, who had been signed in November 1943, after Disney scouts heard him singing in a San Francisco nightclub, according to a November 1943 San Francisco News item. A September 1944 article in Popular Science noted that more than one hundred actors were tested before Garay was selected for the part. Studio press materials include Eileen Herrick, Carla Boehm, Marjorie White and Alma Pappas in the film, but their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed.
Extensive promotion for The Three Caballeros included the appearances of Dora Luz and Carmen and Vicente Molina at celebrations of Mexican Independence Day held in Los Angeles. Special recordings of the film's score were made, in three languages, and distributed worldwide. Hollywood Reporter noted in August 1944 that over one thousand discs had been pressed for the promotion. Numerous commercial recordings were also made of some of the songs featured in the film. On some of the records, "Os quindins de Yayá," was retitled "Angel-May-Care." In addition, a variation on the samba, called the "Samba-Jonga," which is performed in the film, was promoted by the Dancing Masters of America.
The world premiere of the film took place under its Spanish title, Los tres caballeros, on December 21, 1944 in Mexico City. Carmen Molina and Dora Luz appeared onstage at the premiere. According to a June 7, 1945 Hollywood Reporter news item, the picture was "doing the biggest business of any feature ever released in the Latin American market" and would gross "in excess of $700,000 in that territory or double the gross" of the Disney Studio's 1938 feature Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The Three Caballeros received Academy Award nominations for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound Recording.
Although the film has not been theatrically re-issued in its original form, as many other Disney animated features have been, the "Flying Gauchito" segment was issued as a separate short in 1955. In 1976, a re-edited, shortened version of the feature was theatrically released. In 1995, the rough animation drawings and soundtrack created for the unfinished "Laughing Gauchito" sequence were used to reconstruct the short for a laserdisc edition of The Three Caballeros and Saludos Amigos. The unfinished Brazilian short "Caxanga," which was another South American short developed after the 1941 trip, was also reconstructed for the laserdisc.
Released in United States 1944
Released in United States November 1971
Released in United States on Video October 4, 1988
"Three Caballeros" is the first Walt Disney feature to combine animation with live action footage.
Released in United States 1944
Released in United States on Video October 4, 1988
Released in United States November 1971 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (A Tribute to the American Cinema) November 4-14, 1971.)