At the moment I’m working at Glasgow Film Festival, and time is limited. As such, I won’t be able to give much attention to this article about The Three Caballeros. But in a way that’s fitting, because it doesn’t appear as though Disney put much time into it, either. No, once more we have a lazy mish-mash of skits on the theme of South America, only this time it’s half an hour longer so it feels even more interminable. There’s nothing quite as naff as the story of the plane flying over the Andes, but then there’s nothing quite as good as the final section of Saludos Amigos, either. It’s just a retread of the same ground, with the same problems, and I find myself increasingly longing to watch Cinderella. So for the sake of time and your attention, I’ve broken it down into the biggest problems the film faces. Hopefully Make Mine Music will break this trend, and The Forgotten Forties might start picking up.
Problem #1 Donald Duck
The biggest problem of all, in fact. Has there ever been a more irritating character than Donald Duck? That noise he makes in place of speaking is worse than nails on a chalkboard; a rasping, throaty burble that is an assault on good taste. He reacts to everything with a grating ‘oh, boy!’ or a ‘gee whizz!’ and generally gives the film a sense of forced enthusiasm that is certainly not shared by the audience. And the big issue with The Three Caballeros is that he is our guide to the world. He receives a box full of presents from South America, including a Mexican cockerel (yeah, really), and a film about South American birds. Thankfully he isn’t the narrator, but that doesn’t stop him giving his two cents on everything, and his pratfalls increasingly become the focus of the film by the end. Perhaps he is popular with children, but as an adult watching it you quickly develop a hunger for some duck à l’orange.
Problem #2 The South American Setting
Supposedly Saludos Amigos was a trip to South America to get inspiration for their animation, but The Three Caballeros merely reinforces the suspicion that it didn’t especially work. Yet they choose to return here, and once more fail to capture the magic. If they had applied the same inventiveness that fuelled Fantasia to any of the sequences here, they would have struck animated gold. But as it is everything feels rather half hearted.
It’s also fitting, here, to address one of the categories on my check list. I’m talking, of course, about ‘Mild Racism.’ I add the ‘mild’ qualifier because there’s no real malice here, and it’s probably all unintentional. Disney’s infamous Song of the South is unavailable these days because of the ignorance in it, but traces of their cultural insensitivity can be found in a surprisingly large number of their films. Take the crows in Dumbo for instance. Whilst they are not villainous or cruel in any way – in fact, they are some of the most sympathetic supporting characters – they are undeniably reduced to lazy stereotypes of poor English and good dancing. The same is the case with both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros; South America becomes a place entirely of ponchos and maracas, removing any of the nuance or diversity of the continent. It’s like a whistle stop tour of all the cultural checkpoints, but without any of the heritage or rich culture that inform these surface details. That’s what I mean by mild racism, and The Three Caballeros certainly ticks that box.
Problem #3 The Storytelling
Or lack, thereof. Once more the skits are loosely thrown together, and have no impetus or direction. Whilst this criticism could be applied to Fantasia, that film works because of the craftsmanship that is just not evident here. Each of the stories in Fantasia are perfectly self contained, yet also contribute to an overall arc that celebrates art and music and beauty. There’s no such arc here, and instead we get rather uninformative, docu-style voiceover and extremely tenuous linking between the sequences. They all go on so long, as well, that any enjoyment that might be derived from the ideas is soon quashed by the fact that they never seem to end. For a film that is only 70 minutes long, it never seems to end.
The Redeeming Feature
If every skit was condensed to about half its length, this would have some really bright ideas executed with a lot of panache. There are moments here – brief, fleeting moments – that show Disney’s capabilities with animation. Even when the Three Caballeros mix with the live action people, which looks horribly dated now, it displays a bit of much needed flair. The problem is that this tiny flame of creativity is quickly put out by the hosepipe of indulgence. There’s also a running joke with a singing bird that genuinely made me laugh.