The Three Caballeros (1945)
Less racism, more creepy men
Hello and welcome back to Oof! Right in the Childhood. I’m Jen, and each week, I talk about both the history and social commentary of one of the Disney Animated feature films. This week, I’ll be talking about The Three Caballeros from 1945. For once, a 1940s cartoon has a lot less racism, but it trades off with adding more creepy men!
The day after the Attack on Pearl Harbour, 800 soldiers arrived at Walt Disney Productions and occupied it for almost a year. Soon thereafter, Walt Disney began creating training and propaganda cartoons for the government. This is the only full-length theatrical release of that time. If you want to hear about other, shorter cartoons, and a more thorough history of their World War II propaganda, I’ll tell you how later.
Anyway, as the United States joined World War, there was a growing concern that Central and South America would be vulnerable to Nazi propaganda. They knew that some South American countries had close ties to Germany, and as the war dragged on, that concern became more and more paranoia. The fear was that, if Germany were to create treaties with Mexico or the central American countries to its south, they would be able to place missiles in range of the United States or take control the Panama Canal.
The U.S. government had an idea for a secret weapon — Mickey Mouse. The Latinx community adored the Disney cast of characters, so they approached Walt Disney to ask if his studio would be a cultural ambassador to encourage friendship and cooperation with Latinx countries.
Walt flew with his wife, Lillian, and twenty members of staff, including artists and composers to Mexico and several Central and South American countries. Along the way, the artists sketched the sights and people while the composers listened to the music.
They returned to the U.S., and the studio produced two different movies, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. Both were released in theatres, there weren’t home movies at the time, after all, but when I started this project, I decided I was limiting my commentary to movies that clocked in at over an hour. So here we are with The Three Caballeros
The result was a collection of six separate cartoons with Donald Duck visiting his cousins in Latin America with a series of story lines that explored the countries with a cast of characters. Among which were live action humans appearing on the same screen with cartoon characters for the first time.
Aurora Miranda, the baby sister of Carmen Miranda appeared as one of the dancers as the characters visited Brazil. They also hired a dance troupe from Los Angeles called the Padua Hills Players to perform Mexican sections of the film.
The Padua Hills Players were actually a really interesting entity in and of themselves. Started in 1931, it was a non-profit group dedicated to building understanding and appreciation of the Mexican culture for White Americans. They both learnt and taught cultural dances, and really did a lot to encourage intercultural understanding.
The Three Caballeros is probably the first truly experimental film Disney embarked on, if you don’t count Snow White as an experiment in feature-length animation. It gave us animation techniques that led to classics like Mary Poppins and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
I dug around the internet trying to find the final budget of this film, but there doesn’t seem to be any truly documented number. I did find one person on a forum claiming it only cost the studio $150,000 which is a little hard to believe, given the other movies’ budgets and that this film included flights to multiple countries and live action actors, but it’s the only figure I could find.
What is easy to find is the box office revenue. When The Three Caballeros was released, it raked in $3.6 million. That’s $51.8 million today, when adjusted for inflation. It was also nominated for Best Musical Score and Best Sound Recording for the 1946 Oscars, but it didn’t win
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 its 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 2 from the occupation of the studio by the U.S. 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 on my Patreon can be found on my website at oofmychildhood.com
The video description on my streaming service reads, "May contain outdated cultural representations," in very small text. Excellent.
The titles are really colourful and portray the traditional art styles of Latinx countries. They sing about being “The Three Caballeros” and I just realized I don’t know what that means. Google Translate says it means “Gentlemen.” Wikipedia says it’s specifically about “knight gentlemen.” This is going to be proved wrong later.
We open to a box with a tag on it. It has about 100 stamps on it and pretty bows. It’s in Spanish, but even my, “I stopped taking Spanish in 3rd grade,” brain can read most of it. I’m gonna mispronounce it, though.
“Felicitaciones al Pato Donald en su cumpleaños viernes thirteen, de sus amigos en Latinoamerica.” Yeah, I know that’s not how you say thirteen in Spanish, but my brain just stopped. Congratulations to — Pato — Donald on his birthday Friday 13 from his friends in Latin America.
Oh hey, wait, is Donald’s birthday Friday the 13th? Put that in your trivia hat, everyone. Wait, no one’s birthday IS Friday the 13th. Well, that’s fun. Let’s do some time investigation!
In 1945, there were 2 Friday the 13ths! April 13 and July 13. This movie was released in September, so … flip a coin.
And Google Translate says Pato means Duck. Okay.
Oh, then the movie translates it for me. So that was wasted time. Oh well.
Donald’s super excited about this gift. He tears it open and then inside the big box, there are three smaller boxes. Because that's how people received presents, I guess.
The first gift is a projector and screen which is a pretty impressive gift for the 40s. Donald has some really rich friends in Latin America.
“Aves Raras, that means ‘strange birds’,” I mean, I don’t speak Spanish, but given what I know about Latin roots, I believe it means “rare birds.”
"You have more cousins here than there are coffee beans in Brazil." Ooooookay....
Why do they send us to the South Pole? That’s not South America. Penguins playing in the snow are cute. Pablo the penguin lives in an igloo with a stove and is a better representation than almost any other depiction of those who actually do live in igloos.
This penguin is me and my feelings on cold. I love him.
He tries to ski away with a stove on his back. This goes as well as you might expect. “Maybe he’ll be content to stay at home this time.” Well, that’s a short cartoon.
Now he's constructed clothing from hot water bottles. I might try this.
Pablo cuts his igloo off of the ice floe and sails off with his stove.
There's a line in here about him being near Cape Horn that I feel might be a joke, but I have no idea what that joke was. Most of the the rest of this short is just navigating around South America.
Yep, I was waiting for the ice boat to melt. But don’t worry, his tub floats, somehow. I mean, I don’t think fibreglass tubs float now, and I think tubs were made of steel in the 40s.
Nonetheless he gets to the Galapagos and builds himself a hut. But now he misses the cold. Fake news.
We’ll head to to the Amazon, and we’re talking about the birds of the Amazon. They’re all cousins.
They talk about all these cool real birds and then move to — the Aracuan? This is not a real bird. Y’know how I know? Because I checked.
He sings a song that is both annoying and catchy.
We’ll go on to real birds again. Flamingos are pink.
We've moved into a story from Ecuador which is interspersed with Spanish. It does give us some good vocabulary for clothing.
This kid is hunting wild ostrich? What? That’s not a thing. Okay.
Oh, condors, okay. But he normally hunts ostrich? What ostrich?
That is a donkey with wings. It’s a smart lil donkey too!
The donkey both sings and “hee-haws.”
Honestly, this segment about the flying Ecuadorian donkey has way more culture than anything else than Disney had produced to this point. It talks about Yerba Mate and fiestas and boche.
He’s decided to race his flying donkey. This can’t possibly go wrong!
Shock of shocks, you'll get disqualified for racing with a flying donkey.
The narrator says, "Neither him nor me was ever seen again as long as we lived," but he recorded the voiceover for the story, how?
Oh! New package! It glows! And dances.
There’s a dancing bird in it that speaks Spanish.
Joe Carioca! I’ve never heard of you! But you’re being interrupted by the Aracuan.
“Have you ever been to Baía?” Nope. It’s in Brazil. Maybe he speaks Portuguese, now that I think about it.
We proceed to a very pretty song about Baía which, according to Wikipedia, is a state in Brazil. There’s nothing really special about this song, but the art is absolutely amazing. It makes me want to visit Brazil.
Joe proceeds to tell us about all the things Baía has. And I couldn’t tell what a single one is.
Okay, so these birds are singing about how great Baía is and then Donald's like, "Well, have you been?" and they're like, "No, actually. Good point. Let's go on vibrantly coloured trains."
Baía is inside a pop-up book, somehow.
And now we have real people all of a sudden. This is Aurora, Carmen Miranda’s little sister. She carries a tray of baked goods on her head instead of a bushel of fruit. And they're singing in I'm going to guess in Portuguese.
Google translate helpfully tells me that "Os quindins de Yayá" means "The quindins of Yayá" in Portuguese. That’s not helpful. When they introduced Aurora, they said she was Yayá, so I’m gonna guess, they’re her quindins. Whatever a quindin is. Back to the internet.
Wikipedia tells me "A quindim is a popular Brazilian baked dessert that is typically yellow and contains sugar, egg yolk, and ground coconut." And now I want that.
Now I'm on to googling and they're little Brazilian custards! Adorable. I will mention that at the time of this film’s release, there was no real way for the audience to find out what this was, so I mean, they were just giving them a ton of information they couldn’t figure out.
Donald’s tired, but he shouldn’t sleep because there are more presents!
Instead of sleep, let's dance in front of soundwave slash acid trip that’s a combination of Fantasia and Pink Elephants on Parade! In this sequence, the soundwave shows us the instrument making the sound. That’s fun. The lyrics are in Spanish, so I’m sure they’re saying something great.
I have never heard this bird’s name, but according to IMDB, we’ve now introduced Panchito Pistoles and now we’re at “The Three Caballeros” portion of the movie! It also seems that we’ve moved to Mexico.
There’s a silhouette of a pretty lady and they fox whistle at it. That’s how I like my cartoon birds, attracted to human females.
Now, we’re going to learn about Christmas in Mexico. Las Posadas is a tradition in Mexico where children seek shelter for the Nativity, and when they find some, they celebrate with a piñata. Now I'm wondering if this is the first many white Americans ever heard of a piñata.
The art here is very traditional Mexican and is made of stills rather than animation. It’s beautiful.
Donald proceeds to try to hit a piñata like every child ever.
And we move onto the history of the Mexican flag now. I didn't know Mexico City was built on a lake! That's incredibly cool. I watched this movie shortly before I learnt about the Axolotl and its habitat is threatened because it only lives in that lake, and Mexico City keeps growing. Save the Axolotl. It’s a cool lil amphibian.
Back some traditionally drawn stills over a love song for Mexico City. I’d feel better about these if I thought for one second that a Mexican artist drew them.
The birds are now flying through Mexico on a "magic sarape"
Back to live action with cartoons overlaid. Here they show some really interesting landscapes and then we return to dancing.
Herein are the Padua Hills players that I mentioned earlier. Their kiddos dance!
Um...Donald is giving all kinds of looks to the human women and I don't know how I feel about that.
He greets them with "Hi, toots," Eugh.
He dances with them, and then they fly off after calling them beautiful. I guess there are worse things? But Donald fights them taking him away from the women. Ew.
They go to Acapulco beach and Donald sees women in bathing suits and says, “Boy am I gonna like this place,” and calls them “hot stuff.”
They proceed to dive bomb the beach because in the 1940’s, women in swimsuits was a good reason to bring war upon a beach or something. Eesh.
Donald then proceeds to be straight up creepy with this beach of women. I do love these swimsuits though.
The girls, however, are used to men being the worst, and they throw him into the air.
He screams at them “Hey there! You can’t this to me!” as if the women have no choice but to be in love with an anthropomorphic duck. Gee, I wonder where men get the idea that they’re “owed” sexual attention by women. Oof! Right in the childhood.
We're now in an acid dream of sorts with Donald chasing women around. Boy, Disney animators sure liked to make these things.
The singer is the centre of a flower. And she’s interrupted by very loud singing and screaming. I don’t even know why any of this is happening.
Those are birds with human legs. Female human legs.
The cactus are dancing now.
The best part about the woman dancing in the sombrero is that she does not seem to get two craps about Donald. She just keeps dancin. And her cacti attack him.
Anthropomorphic dancing cactus ducks. Didn't see that coming.
How did we transition from dancing cacti to um...fake bull-fighting ballet? Is that what this is?
Set fireworks off on the costume your friend is wearing kids, it'll be great!
That is the strangest set of anything I've ever watched. And this is what we did to encourage Americans to understand the Central and Southern American cultures? This is so weird!
Before you ask, next week is not going to be a rewatch of Song of the South. There are a few reasons for this. First, this was initially based only on titles that are on Disney plus (not sponsored). As Song of the South has never been released for private viewing in North America, it’s not there.
Second, it’s hella racist. I have watched it. Years ago when the Disney channel used to show it on TV. Even as a child, I knew that it felt wrong. And you know what? I’m willing to have a discussion about how certain racist slurs are no longer acceptable. And as we’ll see going forward, I’m happy to talk about individual scenes that are problematic, but the whole friggin movie is just a mass of racist caricatures. I would spend the whole time going, “Nope, that’s racist.”
It just doesn’t seem like a great time for anyone.
Despite that, I do have something special in store for you listeners. On Thursday, I’ll be back with a special guest episode of Rob Kaiju of Kaiju FM. Rob really loved The Three Caballeros as a kid, so he and I are going to talk about his memories of the film and his impressions of it today. If you’re already subscribed to the podcast, you’ll get a notification when the episode goes live. If not, what are you waiting for? Hit that button!
And in the meantime, let me know your impressions of The Three Caballeros. Did you watch it as a child, or is this episode the first you’ve heard of it? Tell me your memories and your current feelings toward the film on social media. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by searching the show’s name or the handle oofmychildhood.
This episode’s cover art was created by Ventrice Francesco. I link to his Facebook and Instagram in the show notes, my website, and on social media.
My theme music was composed and played by Shawn Rudoph of Let Music Be. For more information on that studio, you can visit their website at letmusic.be or visit my website for a easy link
You can find transcripts for each episode on my website, and if you check out my YouTube Channel, I have captioned video versions of each episode as they’re published. I do my best to provide YouTube videos and transcripts at the same time as the episode is released, but if this one isn’t up yet, you can always check on my website for an update and a link to the appropriate video.
Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you come back each week to discuss Disney through modern eyes. And while you’re at it, if you’re enjoying yourself, please let your friends know about me. I’d also appreciate a rating and review wherever you’re listening to the show. This podcast is written and recorded. This episode was edited by Anastasia Saff. I release a new episode every Monday through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and many, many other podcatchers.
So, until next time, keep the magic alive.