Ranking the Disney Canon – 13: The Three Caballeros

“Well, that’s human nature for you, even if you’re a penguin!” – Narrator

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time for our final package film! Please folks, hold your applause until the end. The Three Caballeros is the second of the two “South America” package film, and also the second one to appear on this list. Unlike any of the other package films, including Saludos Amigos, it is hard to place The Three Caballeros into any one category. It mixes the documentary style of Saludos Amigos, the storytelling of the “Feature Length Shorts” package films, and the music of the “Fantasia Clone” package films. It truly stands out among all the films in Disney history.

The film begins on Donald Duck’s birthday, as he receives a gift from his friends from Latin America. Donald watches “The Cold Blooded Penguin” and ” The Little Gauchito,” as well as learning about the many birds from South America. Donald is soon joined by his old pal Jose Caricoca from Saludos Amigos, who takes him on a journey to the Brazilian city of Baia, where the city dances to a rousing rendition of the South American song “Angel May Care.” After returning to a normal size, Donald and Jose meet Panchito the Mexican Rooster, who dubs them “The Three Caballeros” before taking them on a musical journey of Mexico. The film ends with one of the craziest endings in Disney History, as Donald travels through a series of surreal environments to the tune of “You Belong to My Heart” and “Jesusita en Chihuahua.”

WHY IT’S GREAT

Where do I begin? Where I can begin with a film like this.

Let me make this statement first, which you may have been able to grasp from this entry’s introduction: The Three Caballeros is one of the most unique and, dare I say, daring films in Disney History. It is untraditional in every way and remains extremely entertaining in every way. It uses to character, humor, music, and South American culture to the fullest. It will be hard to describe exactly what it does, but I’ll try.

And let’s start with one of the things that make it a unique film in Disney history. The film uses a large collection of animation and artistic styles. The shorts and the characters are animated in a traditional Disney style, but the Baia segment features both a realistic painting style and the patented pastel like stylization of Mary Blair (more on her in a bit). The Angel May Care segment features both Live Action in a traditional musical sense and in an extremely stylized sense. Mary Blair’s art appears again when the film explores the Mexican tradition of Christmas, and the film runs the gambit of traditional to near abstract for the film’s wild finale. As you can see from this description alone, The Three Caballeros goes all over the place, and it works.

I love the exploration of Animation styles in this film. The Three Caballeros is so visually interesting to look at, and this is because all of the film’s stylization in the visual department is fantastic. This film truly shows the artistic talent the Disney Studio had throughout Walt’s era. I love how every different style gives you a different feeling for each segment, and yet they all connect through one simple word: Beauty. Each style is beautiful in its own special way. This is one of those films I show when I want to show someone why I love animation.

The South American Films are noted for being the moment in time when Mary Blair fully came into her own as an artist. We still have yet to see her greatest work on this list, but The Three Caballeros is a film where you can truly see her work. For those of you who don’t know who Mary Blair is, she is one of the most famous artist that came out of the Disney Studio. If you’ve ever been on It’s A Small World, you’ve seen what is probably her most her famous and enduring design work.Anyways, Mary Blair’s work here is among the best. The Train sequence in the Baia segment is completely Mary Blair and completely happy, and the character designs for the Christmas in Mexico drawings absolutely make that sequence. I’m a huge fan of Mary’s work, and this is absolutely among her best.

But like many, if not all, of the films surrounding this one, it all comes back to character. The Three Caballeros stars one of Disney’s greatest characters in Donald Duck. This is the 1940s we are talking about here, when Donald was in top form, and this film is no exception. From the beginning until the end, Donald is an absolute treat, and is always showing off why is was Disney’s most popular character. Everything Donald has in this film is great, from his excitement for this Birthday Gifts to his interaction with the human women throughout the film to his failure to perform some Black Magic. Donald is hilarious here, as he almost always is.

Of course, Donald is at his best when he has other character to play off of, and the film is called The Three Caballeros, after all. We have two more Caballeros to go! The second one to appear in the film is Jose, who we already met in Saludos Amigos. Luckily for us, Jose has so much more screen time to show off his great personality and style. You may remember that I mentioned my disappointment with the lack of Jose in Saludos Amigos. Well, The Three Caballeros more than makes us for that.

Jose’s personality is perfect one to play off of Donald’s, as it is smarter, mischievous, and to use a modern word, trolling. Throughout the entire film, Jose’s personality is in full force in contrast with Donald, and it truly is fun to see the two continue to interact.  Jose has got this literal magical quality to him that adds this almost intangible mystique to the film. And, of course, we have to include the fact that Jose is hilarious, especially alongside Donald and encouraging Donald’s purely Donald antics to come out for his own personal enjoyment. I really wish Jose would have ben in more Disney productions, because he is such a fun foil for Donald to play alongside, and still uniquely different from The Nephews and The Chipmunks as viable opponents for the world’s angriest Duck.

And then, there is the introduction of Panchito, representing Mexico, which was completely absent from Saludos Amigos. Though Panchito is not as strong of a character as Jose is, he is still extremely fun character, especially his uncensored, gun-toting version. I think the best thing about Panchito is that he brings something unique to the group that neither Donald nor Jose bring. Panchito is completely wild, unpredictable, and crazy, shooting his guns all around, and confusing Donald and Jose. But at the same time, Jose and Panchito end up being perfect partners, as they both enjoy the humor in seeing Donald suffer. The Three Caballeros as a group are fantastic, and it is a shame that Disney has not used them together more often. They do what a group should do, being great as a group, each being able to play off the other, yet being wonderful on their own as well.

I think this is a good moment to move towards the shorts and the individual segments, and for that we’ll start a the beginning with “The Cold Blooded Penguin.” Narrated by Sterling Holloway (THE COUNT RETURNS! Sterling Holloway Count: 4!), The Cold Blooded Penguin is a great way to start off the film. It’s a hilarious premise with a wonderful Main Character in Pablo, who wants nothing more than to move somewhere warm. Pablo’s misadventures in trying to find his sunny beach are great, and as memorable as any of the Disney Shorts coming from the studio at the time. It’s also able to sneak in the informational bits about South America with really interrupting the flow of the short. The finale with the sinking Bathtub is so much fun, and as always, Sterling Holloway’s voice just adds a unique charm to the piece, and his narration is perfectly written for him.

Of the two beginning shorts, though, “The Little Gauchito” is the winner. This short does everything that The Cold Blooded Penguin does, but better. Our characters of the Gauchito and the Flying Donkey are fantastically expressive, the short is layered with visual gags and smart humor, the learning is subtle but still present, and the score and action is fun, thrilling, and entertaining. What makes this segment amazing, however, is the narration. Not only is this segment the best example of the classic Disney Narrator-Subject interaction outside of a Goofy short, it may be the best use of it ever. Seriously, I still laugh at the narrator in this section. The writing for The Little Gauchito is flawless. Every line and every line delivery is perfect in its own way. I absolutely love this segment.

The real highlight segment of this film starts, however, when Jose finally makes an appearance. The entirety of the film’s Brazil segment is nearly flawless, from the beautiful painting of Baia, to the “Have You Been to Baia?” section, to Mary Blair’s wonderfully animated. beautifully scored Train section, and finally, to Angel May Care. Oh, where do I begin with Angel May Care?

I cannot begin to describe my love for Angel May Care. The entire section is just simply wonderful in every way. The song is alive with so much pop, so much fun, and so much happiness, the choreography is absolutely spot on and enchanting to watch, the human actors are amazing and do a wonderful job with the material, and Donald and Jose are pitch perfect in their interactions and their attempts to woo the woman at hand. And that’s all before getting into the extremely stylized ending, where the lighting and the choreography, and the animation, pick up to an amazing style. All in all, Angel May Care, and the entire Brazil section of the film, is certainly the best any of the package films have to offer, and among my favorite moments in Disney Film history. Even the scene afterwards, where Donald and Jose use Black Magic to return to normal size, is wonderfully hilarious and near perfect.

And then, of course, we get to Panchito and The Three Caballeros song, and this is where I briefly want to talk about the film’s music. I love this film’s soundtrack. I LOVE it. It is so unique, different, and fun, and gives a wonderful taste of Latin America culture. I’ve already talked about Angel May Care, but my favorite song in the film is the title song, which I think is one of the most underrated songs in Disney history. The song’s lyrics are fun, but what really makes the song are the visuals. The song is one of the most visually fun Disney songs ever, and has an amazing set of visual gags. And the songs that end the film with the Mexico segment are also wonderful. The score is another highlight, with the scores for The Little Gauchito and The Train to Baia being major highlights.

If we want to get back to the segments, The entirety of Mexico is extremely fun. The explanation of the traditions of the Mexican Christmas and the origin of the Pinata is very interesting and the drawings by Mary Blair perfectly compliment the touching story. The music and live action shots all throughout the segment are amazing, and feature more great animation and humor, especially when Donald is on the Mexican beach attempting to woo some women.

It’s the ending of the Mexico segment, and the ending of the film, that is another real highlight. This is what you call a “go for broke” ending. It’s absolutely INSANE! The animation, the soundtrack, the design work, everything. I love this ending. You couldn’t get away with something like this now. Believe me when I say this ending is all over the place, and it’s wonderful. You need to see it to understand it, but everything from “You Belong to My Heart” to “Jesusita en Chihuahua” to the reprise of “The Three Caballeros” is another set of perfection.

And that’s the last thing I think about when I think about The Three Caballeros: It is the absolute Package film. It is entertaining all the way through, perfectly paced, hilarious and touching, not a moment of downtime to be found. It was fantastic characters, wonderful music, interesting and unique visuals, and it leaves you with something memorable, which is fantastic without a plot to drive it through.

BEST MOMENT AND SONG

Man, I feel like I don’t even have to describe these, because I talked about them at length above! But it is still a section, and we will need to see it in official, written form. Don’t we?

Since I cannot claim that the entire Brazil segment is the best scene, as it would be a HUGE chunk of the film, I’ll make the The best scene in the film Angel May Care. And it really is. Go back up if you want to see me rant about it!

And the film’s best song is The Three Caballeros song. It is just a segment full of wonderful visual humor and amazing sound and music. Certainly a fun segment, to say the least.

CLOSING COMMENTS

I’m going to call The Three Caballeros the most underrated film in Disney History. Every single moment for me is pure entertainment in the purest Disney form, and the uniqueness and craziness of the film keeps me coming back for more. The Three Caballeros is truly one of my personal favorites, and is a film you should totally check out. If you take one thing from this list, take the fact that if you haven’t seen this movie yet, you’ll promise me that you’ll see it. Promise? Good. LONG LIVE THE THREE CABALLEROS!

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2 thoughts on “Ranking the Disney Canon – 13: The Three Caballeros

  1. It’s a shame that this film is underappreciated and how not many people may remember it. For among the shorts that’s featured in the film, it’s definitely one of those Disney films which feature Donald Duck at his absolute best. With how his antics clash with his old buddies, Jose & Panchito, his pursuit of women (Which is why I’m glad Daisy wasn’t in this at the time), and it’s blend of cultures with a vast number of animation techniques it was definitely those ‘South America’ films that I enjoyed to watch as a child. There is a ton of great music, the shorts are enjoyable to watch, and it’s certainly not going to be like package films will see today if any at all in the next few years. Even though the closest we’d see more with the Caballeros is during a ‘House of Mouse’ episode, they provide great chemistry as a group which is what really captures the spirit of the feature as a whole.

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