Disney, Reviews

Disney Canon Countdown 6: ‘Saludos Amigos’

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With Saludos Amigos, we begin our first entry in the Disney Wartime Era or “package films” as they are sometimes known.These are films that were made during World War II when animators and funds were scarce, so Walt combined together shorts into a feature film length to keep the studio afloat.

You might be surprised to hear me say this, but I think the making of Saludos Amigos could be a great film (screenwriters take note!). The behind-the-scenes in this case is much more interesting than the film itself.

In 1941, the US State Department began to worry about the influence of Nazi Germany on neighboring nations in South and Central America. Some of these countries like Brazil had German populations and were influenced by Europe more so than the United States or Great Britain.

To help curb Nazi influence, the US State Department developed a campaign called the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’, and Walt Disney was asked to spearhead this project.The Walt Disney company was given a grant by the State Department to lead a goodwill tour of South America and then make a film to be debuted in Brazil.

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So, Disney took the grant and gathered 20 of its artists, composers, and other staff and traveled around South America, and they produced Saludos Amigos. To modern eyes, Saludos Amigos isn’t really a movie. It is only 42 minutes, and it feels like a travel video/fluff piece on South America because that’s essentially what it is.

In Saludos Amigos, we get 4 shorts interrupted with scenes of the Disney crew on their goodwill tour. These shorts are fine if somewhat forgettable:

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Lake Titicaca

The first short features Donald Duck at Lake Titicaca in Peru. It has a classic Disney short feel with a narrator describing the effects of the lake and those effects being heightened in a comedic fashion for poor Donald. You also get to see the dancing llama.

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This is probably the best of the Saludos Amigos shorts. It is about a little airplane who faces storms and scares but refuses to give up in delivering the mail between Chile and Argentina. It’s a cute little short.

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El Gaucho Goofy

El Gaucho Goofy follows the standard Goofy short formula. In this case, Goofy is an American cowboy learning the ways of the Argentine cowboy or guacho with comedic effects.

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Aquarela do Brasil

The most artistic of the shorts, Aquarela do Brasil or Watercolor of Brazil, introduces us to a parrot named José Carioca from Rio de Janeiro. We also get two great songs called “Brazil” and “Tico-Tico no Fuba.”

The most amazing part of Saludos Amigos and Three Caballeros is that the PR stunt actually worked. The films were immensely popular in South and Central America. Not only that, but they contributed to a better impression of Latin America in the United States. Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr said Saludos Amigos “did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in 50 years.”

As a Disney fan, it is also neat to see many of the legendary animators like Lee and Mary Blair, Walt Disney, Frank Thomoas, Norman Ferguson, and more in the film.

Saludos Amigos isn’t a great film, but if you watch it knowing the backstory, I think you will find it worthwhile and hey, it’s only 42 minutes so why not!

Have you seen Saludos Amigos? What did you think of it?

Edited by: Kelly Conley

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net