11.02.2011

Reassessing "The Three Caballeros"


Last seen: 8 or so years ago

For the next several weeks, I’ll be revisiting films I haven’t seen in a while—some not for ten years or more—and trying to look at them with fresh eyes, as it were.  I was particularly happy to revisit one of the most psychedelic (and even psychotronic) films from the Disney canon, The Three Caballeros (dir. Norman Ferguson, 1945), a response by the studio to the Good Neighbor Policy (Saludos Amigos was another) insofar as it put its animated characters into South and Central American settings.  Here, Donald Duck receives a box of south-of-the-border-themed birthday presents, some of which (like a magical flying serape) transport him to Baia, Acapulco Beach, and Mexico City.  I last saw it as a college student, when I came across the VHS copy that I had received as a Christmas present approximately ten years before that, after seeing the film for the first time as a child in grade school, when it made some sort of mysterious impression on me.  So I’ve had a longtime appreciation for The Three Caballeros as a kind of weird Disney novelty.  It’s still a strangely fascinating film—often beautiful, more often manic in that kind of lushly trippy Disney way (cf. much of Fantasia, parts of Alice in Wonderland, the “Pink Elephants” sequence in Dumbo, etc.).  I got thinking about it recently after Glenn Kenny mentioned it in passing on his blog. 

As a cultural object, The Three Caballeros is noteworthy in different ways than Disney’s fully-animated fairy tales; while all of Disney’s films from this period were made for all ages (not only children), The Three Caballeros feels even more like a child-friendly film for adults than an adult-friendly film for children than just about any of their other films with the exception of Fantasia.  Whole sequences seem aimed at grown-ups looking to gaze at paintings of exotic landscapes to the strains of romantic Latin songs (such as the great “Baia,” later covered by Bing Crosby and the Xavier Cugat orchestra).  (Kids, meanwhile, are likely to yawn their way through these scenes.)  The Donald Duck sequences are more comic…and more sexually charged.  Watching the film as a child I certainly never noticed the significance of Donald’s telescope sproinging open when he looks at some pretty sunbathers in Acapulco.




The film culminates in an utterly frenzied drug trip/wet dream/fever dream/fantasy sequence in which, love-struck, Donald swims through a kind of nebulous space filled with unfurling flowers, exploding stars, and bikini-clad women while a voice intones “purty girls…purty girls…purty girls!”  Subtle it’s not, but the film's sexually frenzied atmosphere sailed past my head as a child, and was only slightly more obvious to me when I last saw it as a college student.  As a whole, it might not be the equal of Pinocchio or Snow White, but it’s a curiously irresistible and endlessly baffling film, and the music is quite good.  Original rating: ***½  New rating: ***½        


Psychotronic Disneyana.

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