The Absolute Weirdness of the Three Caballeros
with Rob Kaiju
[Transcriber note: The punctuation in this transcript is less structured than other transcripts because it's a conversation. Unscripted conversations are harder to create methodized sentence structure, but I've done my best. I've also done my best to provide a clean transcript, eliminating verbal hiccoughs where available.]
Jen: Hi there and welcome to another midweek guest episode of Oof! Right in the Childhood. Today I'm joined by Rob Kaiju of KaijuFM. Rob thanks so much for joining us today.
Rob: It's my pleasure. It's my pleasure.
Jen: Why don't you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself.
Rob: Sure as I'm sure you can tell I am a Brit. I am a podcaster. I run the KaijuFM network. We are a collection of shows that are interested in the niche and the weird and unusual so we have a show that is watching all of Looney Tunes and trying to build a cohesive universe of it all. We have a home brewing show. We have a couple of D&D shows, and my show — the first show on the network is called The Prestige which is a movie review and discussion show. I used to work in film industry, and my co-host is an English lecturer, so he has theory information and I have practical information and we bring those two things together to talk about movies. And we're currently doing a mini season looking at the history of the heist movie
Jen: Wow, so you not only do movie reviews but you focus on the weird and unusual which really is the wheelhouse for The Three Caballeros.
Rob: Yes I haven't yet managed to convince my co-host to do a Disney season because he just isn't a fan, so when the chance came up to talk about Disney and particularly early Disney and The Three Caballeros I thought now's my chance I can spread my wings here and get it off my chest
Jen: Well that's so fantastic and I'm absolutely thrilled to have you on the show today so why don't we just jump in and how about you tell me a little bit about like why you were so excited about The Three Caballeros in specific because I know you were you were like oh I want to talk about Saludos Amigos or The Three Caballeros and The Three Caballeros fell into the podcast so anything specifically about this movie that you remembered the before you watched it again.
Rob: Yeah well given the show if we've been talking about this I saw this in my childhood. Which as a white kid from middle England was quite rare because obviously it is not a international picture in the way that other Disney films were. I do not know how it ended up in our possession my uncle had it recorded off TV I think or recorded off somewhere. It was like a home bootleg version of the movie.
Rob: and he gave it to us I must have been I don't know eight or nine, if that. So you know looking at 30 years ago now and I just remember as a kid being, like, entranced by how weird this was. We'd watched Fantasia so that was kind—of we'd already experienced a bit of the weirdness from that, but just The Three Caballeros was this weird fever dream of a movie from my childhood. And I grew up before streaming or DVDs. Like it's this thing that I remembered watching this really weird, incredibly weird Donald Duck cartoon from from my childhood, and it wasn't until I got older and the internet came about and I find it. I found it again, and I remember must been I don't know ffve, six years ago. I will confess I found a copy on the online and watched it and thought oh this is as weird if not weirder than I remember it being and I just think it's so unusual in Disney canon. Now we've got Disney Plus I have a daughter and I've tried to make her watch it. She is not keen yet
Rob: But she is she's only four so give her some time, but so far she isn't overly interested in this movie. But yeah, it was just one for my childhood, and it is one of those movies that not a lot of people have seen.
Jen: No, absolutely, when I told my husband I was like, "So the thing that comes after Bambi is called The Three Caballeros," and he was like, "The Three whats?" And I was like yep that's that's how I reacted. I've never heard of this movie and so me trying to explain to him what this movie was afterward he was like, "Well that's weird." [Jen laughs]
Rob: It's—I mean it's a weird movie because it isn't really a theatrical movie in the way that other Disney ones were. It's a government propaganda piece trying to encourage Latin America to support America and be friends with America during the War. That's what the purpose of the movie was so—
Jen: [overlapping] Oh absolutely, yeah
Rob: It doesn't have that same kind of need of being like a theatrical movie the other ones have, and because it isn't as well known about I just thought it was a great time to talk about it basically. And it's interesting I think you know it is one that my experience of as a child is different as an adult. Because I was a child, and I didn't get some of the jokes and certainly some of the horn dogness of Donald Duck should I say? [Jen laughs] Went over me as a kid, but yeah I just I think this film is it's one of those ones that I really try and champion. Because you do see if you go to Disneyland you do see the Caballeros there. They are there especially in Epcot they have them in the in the Mexico village, I believe. So they are part of the current mythology, but the movie is mostly forgotten. So yeah that's that's why I talk about it.
Jen: Well that it's so fun and you know I kind of had the same reactions of the Donald Duck horn dogness. I was like, "Oh yes, this—is they're—they're bringing war upon a beach for girls having swimsuits. Yay!"
Rob: It's very—I mean—I think we've talked about it a lot but it is an incredibly weird film.
Jen: Absolutely. I want to know the acid that they got to drop for that movie it was just so much—whatever
Rob: Right, but I do like the fact that it gets weirder. Like it starts off quite normal. The first bit, so there's like five or six little scenes that build up the movie. And the first one is just a penguin it's a traditional sort of Disney short penguin lives in Antarctica wants to be warmer and goes on this sort of voyage up through South America. And it goes from there to the last section is quite literally called "Donald's Surreal Reverie," and it is just so weird and bizarre. It's just like I look back now, I think of me as a child watching this and like this must have warped me in such weird ways. My parents just left me to it. Go watch that I thought this is just so strange. Unlike any other kind of Disney theatrical piece beyond possibly Fantasia which has some certainly some more—I know allegorical and surreal elements to it. But you've been you talking on your last episode about the pink elephant sequence in Dumbo, and that's that same kind of thing where Disney leaves reality behind and goes off on these surreal, as you say, acid-fueled visual trips and I just think it's this film really highlights that skill of theirs. And it's good fun I mean the music's amazing it's such a colourful and beautiful movie.
Jen: Oh it is. And I do talk about in my synopsis of this about how beautiful some of the art is. Because we get to see styles of art in this film that we never saw before, and we never saw again. We get the traditional Mexican looks and some of that kind of stuff, and the fact that they sent a whole passel of different artists down to South America to learn to draw like the Latinx countries did and learn the music of the Latinx countries, I think that really, really shows through in this.
Rob: Yeah I mean the sequence I think about halfway through the Los Pasados, I think, which is the sort of nativity story. It's this really like beautifully hand drawn — well it's all hand drawn — but this looks like hand hewn kind of cut animation, and it really sort of contrasts so wildly with the other bits of animation. It's really nice, and you've got a feeling that this sort of government commission to build these bonds in America gave the Disney team a chance to really stretch and really push the boundaries and bring in these otherwise non-North American styles of animation.
Jen: Yeah I really like that Los Posados piece too, and one of the things I kept wondering was, is this the first time that white Americans in the 1940s had ever heard of a piñata? You know? Because now, piñatas are everywhere, but I don't have the ability to go back in time and say did, "Did y'all know about this before this before this happened?" I also talked about the section in Brazil with the quindims about this is a very specific Brazilian dessert the quindim and like there wasn't a way to research this you just kind of like dumped a whole bunch of information on all these white folks and it's like good luck with that.
Rob: I mean that that's the thing that I really amazes me because I saw it say in the early 90s, and like I had no—I had encyclopedias was probably the limit of my ability to look these things up. I was like these days to say see a piñata, to seeing a sombrero and seeing all this stuff, and it's just like well that's that's Mexican culture, you know. And like through travel shows, cookery shows, and over here in America you've got much more of a Mexican influence on your general culture. Like these things become part of culture, but back then this must have been like a view on another world.
Jen: this podcast is sponsored by my patrons on Patreon I love creating content for you and becoming a patron on my Patreon helps me cover hosting fees and upgrade the equipment I use while allowing me to minimize ad time at the $5 level you not only get an ad free version of each episode a day earlier than it's released but starting next month you get a special bonus episode on the first of each month with content available exclusively on Patreon. In October I investigate the role of Walt Disney productions during World War II from the occupation of the studio by the US military, to the hundreds of hours of training and propaganda that the studio released I also provide synopses and commentary for the cartoon portions of eight of the propaganda pieces they released during the war information for my Patreon can be found on my website at oofmychildhood.com
Rob: And I mean I can't I honestly can't put my hand on my heart and say how well it does it I don't know too much about sort of the not the racism, but sort of the presumptions that the show the film makes about South American culture, but it seems pretty on the nose. And obviously given it's trying to sell to Latin America you didn't know to get it right but it just feels so authentic and weird as like as a White Brit who had no link. Mexican food was not a thing that existed that then. I didn't eat Mexican food until I was probably in my late 20's because it just isn't over here
Jen: Right and so the first time, when I started doing the the history of this, I actually found several blogs of Latinx people discussing how important The Three Caballeros was in their household and how they grew up with this movie. You know I'm not going to say that it's a great representation of Latinx culture, but I will say that it's probably the best representation of culture up until that point in Disney, and actually for many years later. You know, they at least gave it a try. They portrayed them in a positive way, and they did their best. They had actual Brazilian people dancing and singing in the Brazilian scene. They had actual Mexican people dancing in the Mexican scenes. They tried at least. I mean, I'm gonna give them a thumbs up for giving it a whirl
Rob: Yeah, I mean, I think that you know at a certain point there's the element of being seen. Which as I say, it's not a thing that I've ever had to contend with and I've got the privilege of that in my life that it's not that I've had to battle with. But I can imagine that Disney who are now the biggest media conglomerate in the world, but even back then they were still the biggest name in the game of this kind of stuff. To have them make a movie about your culture and not do a terrible job of it. It's got to have been some sort of thing for them that could have meant something
Jen: Yeah I hope so, and it does seem like it was such a big deal for for the Latinx people, at least from what I can see online. I'm not gonna say that I know everything about it because, I mean, I'm White too. But I I kind of talk about in the section with the flying donkey it was like hey they actually talked about yerba mate and bocce ball and and they gave us all these Spanish words for for all these pieces of clothing and it's like they actually try!
Rob: Yeah and that's the weird thing. It's something that we talk about on my other show quite a lot is the idea that not every movie is for everybody. That as a straight white male, a lot of culture is to serve me, and I shouldn't extend that to every bit of media, is what I'm saying. And this movie is one of them—that's why I like it—because Disney who are the most White of white bread, you know media conglomerates produce this and it's just not for me. Like in terms of like as an audience. Like I love it. I think it's brilliant, but I was not the audience for it. So i've got to come at this movie with an element—as an adult which I didn't have as a kid—of thinking that I'm not going to get all the references because it's not made for me. It's not a movie that thinks about me as its audience, which I think especially for Disney at this time because I think as you as you move forward your show you'll come I mean I'm sure you come across some terrible depictions.
Jen: Oh God.
Rob: I don't know if you're gonna do Songof the South, but that's a horrible film.
Jen: I will not. I actually speak to that, and I say I refuse to do Song of the South because I feel like my entire synopsis would be like, "Well that was racist, and that was also racist, and hey more racism!"
Rob [overlapping]: Yeah
Jen: and that just doesn't sound like fun for anyone. I have seen the Song of the South. It was played on Disney channel when I was a kid, and I remember like even at eight or nine years old going uhhh— this doesn't feel good. So, I'm just not gonna touch it with a 10-foot pole. Besides I'm kind of focusing on the ones that are available through Disney Plus and it's not so—good enough.
Rob: For the best. I will say this I am a VHS collector, so I collect VHS. And one of my collections of that is Disney. I have almost all Disney films released on VHS literally within reach of my desk right now, and I did own Song of the South. I did own a VHS of Song of the South, but about five, six years ago. I'm gonna clear out I just, I thought, "I don't want to own this. I'm never gonna watch it. I'm never gonna want my child to watch it. I never want anyone to watch this," so I got rid of it. I keep the rest—I've got the rest of Disney films, but I just thought I'm just going to get rid of that, and I haven't regretted it for a moment.
Jen: Well good for you that's good to hear, and you know, I thought well there's going to be someone who's upset that I'm not going to do Song the South but my show's not for them, so they can move along.
Rob: Precisely. But yeah I mean all of that aside I do think Caballeros is worth seeing if you have an interest in Disney or you have an interest in Latin America or even you just want to watch because it is a good movie it is it is surreal and weird for Disney but it is a good film.
Jen: Well yeah, and it gave us a lot of things that they got to use later. This was their first truly experimental film. If you're going to get away from the fact that Snow White was an experiment in and of itself that no one knew how to use. But like they did live action with animation for the first time, and like—built—that gave us some stuff that gets to build on as we move forward with Disney, and yeah I think it all in all it was a great movie to watch even though I kind of went, "[uncomfortable noise]" about half the time. Then also hey please could we not shoot the ladies for [both laugh] saying no?
Rob: Yeah like that was the one thing that really struck me watching it now. I've seen it in adulthood before but I've never really approached it with a bit more of an analytical eye before this what we watched yesterday, but I really like it really felt quite—I wouldn't say sexist because it isn't sexist. But I would say just like, incredibly male gaze in the way it approached a lot of the women in it. Especially from—should I say duck gaze I suppose then. lt is very, for want of a better word, "horny." It is just so—everything is about these three birds looking at women, seeing women, appreciating those women, and as you say dive-bombing them on the beach because they're in bikinis. And these are these are live action women. I mean there is some animated women and sort of silhouettes that kind of thing, but these are live action women with whom these birds become obsessed. It is for a Disney film, which is essentially a kid's company, it's very—I don't know what. It's just strange I suppose.
Jen: I call it creepy. I refer to it as creepy. Y'all are creepy.
Rob: [agreement overlaps] It moved very quickly from beyond being appreciative just being a bit leery.
Jen: Well, I really appreciate you coming and talking to us today. I mean like, absolutely, I think everyone should should take the time and and watch this and see what uniqueness was born from World War II. Trying to say, "Please don't put bombs near us."
Rob: Please be our friend. Please
Jen: Yeah we like you see we made a movie about you.
Rob: Yeah. [overlap] Propaganda. It's a weird one.
Jen: Oh boy—I did my whole first bonus episode is is about the World War II propaganda, and boy—that is—[sound of incredulity].
Rob: [incoherent overlap]
Jen: This is so much happier!
Rob: We do one of the shows our network is doing Looney Tunes I'm watching all of them from the 1940s to now building a universe a case of unison. And they did the War years and they're like—I mean they skipped a lot of the really bad Looney Tunes, but even the ones like the banned ones. Outside that, they're like some of this stuff's incredibly rough.
Jen: Oh, yeah absolutely. It's just oof. That's—hence the name of the podcast, Oof! Right in the Childhood.
Rob: [overlapping] Yeah
Jen: I know I watched this, and ooh. I didn't watch this one. But every single one so far has had me going oof.
Rob: Like yeah it's all these things. Like there's some movies from my childhood that I'm slightly scared to rewatch. Because it was like I remember being a great film, and I'm not sure I want that ruined for me because it will be if I re-watch it.
Jen: Yeah I kind of feel that way too, but I also think that watching something that I absolutely know that I loved when I was a kid helps kind of teach me who I am and why I am that.
Jen: Well, Rob thank you so much for coming on the show today I had a ton of fun talking to you.
Rob: Thank you for having me. As I said it's delightful to come and talk about a movie and thank you for having me on.
Jen: Can you tell everyone where they can—the name of your podcast again just so that they can look you up too?
Rob: Sure. My podcast is called The Prestige Podcast. We talk about movies every two weeks on there but just go to kaiju.fm, and you can find all of our shows on there. You'll find one hopefully that aligns with your interest. You can find me on Twitter @KaijuFM.
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Jen: So, until next time, keep the magic alive.