Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 22, 2022)
Due to declining fortunes, the Disney animation studio underwent “belt-tightening” after 1942’s Bambi. This led to seven years of “meat and potatoes” releases, a trend that started with 1943’s animation/live-action hybrid Saludos Amigos.
That one took viewers to South America, a then largely untapped fan base. Disney visited that continent again – along with Central America as well - for a similar film, 1945’s The Three Caballeros.
It seems it's Donald Duck's birthday and he's received a present of some South and Central American materials, the foremost being a movie projector and screen. This allows him to view cartoons that we watch as well.
After two shorts, however, Jose Carioca springs up and the film takes
a very different turn. At that point, the entire project veers into the same direction as the "Aquarela Do Brasil" segment in Amigos.
Caballeros essentially becomes an elaborate, story-less musical that depicts songs and culture in which Donald, Jose and Panchito - a manic new character who appears only in this film and who rounds out the group to make them the three caballeros - romp through various scenarios. They sing songs and interact with others who dance and sing as well.
To be frank, I find these sequences clever, inventive and well-executed but ultimately tiresome and uninteresting. Much of the picture seems repetitive.
No, the songs and sequences aren't identical, but they look enough alike that they all start to run together. The style worked well for the short in Amigos, but it receives too much emphasis here and the entire project goes downhill because of it.
At least Fantasia offered some widely varying styles, but the same does not occur here and I honestly have a hard time making it through this film.
One notable aspect of these scenes comes from the technology used. Many of the musical sequences of Caballeros combine live action characters and animated personalities.
We think nothing of this today, but nearly 80 years ago it was a big deal. Essentially two techniques were used. Some scenes involve rear projection.
The animation was completed first then projected while the live actors worked in front of it. This works decently well but suffers from
the degradation of the animated image, as it now becomes second generation.
Still, considering my modern eyes are much more sophisticated in terms of special effects viewing than would have been expected at the time, the scenes succeed.
The other technique seems even stronger. In those instances, the live footage was shot first and the animation was composited on top of it.
This method helps eliminate the fuzziness found on the rear projected scenes, and it makes the characters integrate better with the actors. Of course, it's also more complicated and expensive, which is why it wasn't used exclusively. In any case, the technological strides made by Cabelleros were big and the film uses them effectively.
It's too bad the movie itself is a bit of a dud. Caballeros is well-executed and technically proficient, but that doesn't alleviate the fact the material itself gets old pretty quickly. Saludos Amigos offers enough fun to withstand repeated viewings, but Three Caballeros is something I probably won't revisit too many times in the future.