Ranking the Disney Canon – 31: Saludos Amigos

“Here’s an unusual expedition: artists, musicians and writers setting out for a trip through Latin America to find new personalities, music and dances for their cartoon films. So, adios, Hollywood, and saludos, amigos.” – Narrator

Saludos Amigos is the third package film we are looking at, and the first one made. It is one of the two “South America” films that were made as a part of the Good Neighbor Program set up by the United States government. The Good Neighbor Program was an effort by the U.S. to make friendly relations with South America, introducing the culture to both sides of the border, in order to prevent a potential alliance between South America and The Axis Powers of Europe. Walt and his animators were one of the chosen groups of head down and find material for a potential series of films. The two films that Walt created are probably the most famous things to come out of the Good Neighbor Program.

Saludos Amigos consists of four segments, each representing a different South American country. Each segment is introduced with live action shots of the country at hand and small explanation of the culture, with the exception of the second segment. The film begins in Lake Titicaca, on the border of Bolivia and Peru, where Donald Duck explores the culture and the high mountains surrounding the area. The film shifts over to a group of animators in Chile, who become inspired by the famous Andes Mountains and create the story of a young mail plane named Pedro. Next on the list is Argentina, where the life of a Gaucho is uncovered, with a little help from our old pal Goofy. The film ends in the largest country in South America, Brazil, introducing use to Jose Carioca, his relationship with Donald Duck, and his love for the samba.

STRENGTHS

The film is gosh darn entertaining all the way through. All four segments are wonderful, hilarious, and strong throughout their entirety. Unlike the previous Package Films we have seen, the weakness of the film do not come from weak segments or segments that fall out by the end. You’ve got four extremely entertaining shorts here, and it is a wonderful thing. They are shorts that you don’t mind watching over and over and over again. They stand together on their own, yet are very well connected for this package film.

You can count the number of Disney films featuring Mickey’s Gang on your hands, and Saludos Amigos is one of those films. Here, they use them to the absolute fullest effect they can, and it is a brilliant way to introduce and bridge the American and South American cultures. The strongest parts of the film are those featuring Donald and Goofy, and Goofy especially. In fact, if this Goofy section had been released as a short, I would probably rank it very high in the list of Goofy shorts, and that is a huge compliment. This is also one of the few films in the canon where the classic Disney Narrator/Character juxtaposition and interaction that is a stable of the Goofy shorts is present, and as always, it is hilarious and brilliant.

Donald Duck will later star in the sequel to this film, but hints of his great connection to South America are seen here. The Lake Titicaca segment is perfectly Donald, and it’s great to see him and the new character Jose Carioca interact in the final segment, even if it is for way too short of a time together. One of the things I love about this film, from an American point of view, is that the hilarious moments of Donald and Goofy never overshadow the lesson at hand. The characters and the setting work together to create something perfectly entertaining and educational.

You would think that the live action, educational segments would be boring and unappealing, but in reality, there is just enough to keep it interesting, and before it even has a chance to get  tedious, it switches to the animated segment. Personally, I find these looks into South American culture fascinating. This semi-documentary style is unique to this film, and I think it really works. For three of the segments I get enough taste of the culture where I feel that I learned something and was still entertained. The narration is very well written, and easily transitions into the animated segments. I would say that Saludos Amigos has the strongest connections between segments of any Disney Package Film.

WEAKNESSES

It’s way too short.

No, that’s not all I’m going to say on the matter. The fact is, Saludos Amigos is the shortest film in the canon by a landslide. In total, from start to finish, it only runs for 42 mintues. That’s a short, short film. I love this film to death, but it’s length always leaves me wanting more. I’ve watched this film so many times, and yet I always feel like a lot more could have been done and explored in this film. Luckily, the second film, The Three Caballeros, picks up the slack, but it doesn’t excuse this film’s shortness.

While all of the segments are entertaining and awesome in their own way, they still have some issues. The Chile/Pedro segment is good in terms of being entertaining and fun, but it doesn’t represent the culture of Chile as well as the other segments do. I know the film gives the excuse that cameras were not allowed in the country, but this is an animated film. The culture could have easily been represented in a different and unique way. Also, while the Pedro segment is entertaining, it doesn’t actually explore an aspect of the Chile culture like the Lake Titicaca, Argentina, and Brazil segments do. It just dramatizes the Andes. It is still a good segment, but feels a bit out-of-place, and disappointingly so.

The Animated segment of Brazil also has a bit of an issue. It’s beautifully animated, designed, and has a great use of Donald Duck, and introduces us to the character of Jose Carioca. The problem is that the character part of the segment goes by way too quickly. Jose is such a strong character with a fantastic design and personality, but he is introduced to us with only 5 minutes left in the feature. There is no time for him to really introduce us to neither himself nor his home country of Brazil. It’s a shame really, and luckily we will see a lot more of him in The Three Caballeros.

Nothing really happens in the Brazil segment, which is a shame since the live action lead in to the segment presents us with a potentially wonderful segment. The other three segments in the film are short too, but I feel they are packed with a lot more substance, especially the Lake Titicaca and Argentina Segments. I wish the Brazil segment was a bit longer, especially since it is the closing number. The film should have gone out with a bang. It’s not like the film is running long anyways. Another 5 minutes could have done great things for the segment. The segment is still strong, but it has some tiny weaknesses that plague it.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Even though I just chastised the Brazil segment, it does have a brilliant number attached to it, “Aquerela do Brasil” (AKA “Watercolor of Brazil).

The best segment is the Gaucho Goofy section representing Argentina. It is classic Goofy in the fullest, and as mentioned above, as strong as any Goofy short.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I love Saludos Amigos. It’s a personal favorite of mine, and a film I love to introduce to others. It’s easy ability to share comes in the fact that the film is only 42 minutes long. There is much that is strong with this film, especially the Lake Titicaca and Argentina segments. Unfortunately, the length and smaller issues with the other two segments lead you wanting a lot more from this film. I love this film, and it’s only at 31. That should tell you the quality of the films we will be seeing the rest of the way through.

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One thought on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 31: Saludos Amigos

  1. That’s one of the few things I love about films like this. It’s easy to do a fantasy film with mythical worlds, imaginative creatures, and random musical numbers that almost come out of nowhere. But when it comes to giving an audience the taste of a country’s culture, to enjoy the scenery that made the animation possible, and to enjoy the way of life for the people in a comical way then at the very least it’s an entertaining enough film that leaves you wanting more. And yet, ultimately when a movie only allows 42 minutes of such fine animation featuring the beloved characters we grew up with, it’s never satisfying enough for people who enjoy great story telling (Course, this wouldn’t be the only animated feature that goes under an hour). For what’s worth, however, I truly support seeing these shorts for a greater appreciation of South American culture with an opportunity to see characters like Goofy and Donald at their absolute best.

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