The Three Caballeros is another of the few Disney films on my list that I haven’t seen before, so I didn’t really know what to expect going in. What I knew of the premise, Donald Duck getting a tour of Latin America, didn’t sound especially promising, and the first part of the film gave me little hope, but a strong second half made the experience a pleasant surprise.
The film begins with Donald Duck receiving some gifts in the post from some Latin American fans. The first is a film reel of a few shorts, so we get to watch a cartoon bird watching a film of cartoon birds, which is pretty meta, I suppose. The first short is about a penguin who wants to move to some tropical islands, the second is about some of the birds of South America, and the last is about a boy who finds a flying donkey and uses it to cheat in a horse race. Though there’s nothing exactly wrong with these shorts, there’s nothing special about them either; they’re just a few competent, mildly entertaining cartoons.
The Three Caballeros becomes a fair bit more interesting with the other two gifts, a tour of Baia, Brazil, by the Brazilian parrot Jose, and a tour of Mexico given by the rooster Panchito. The rest of the film consists mostly of musical numbers, almost all involving the cartoons interacting with live-action actors and settings. The effect is a bit crude by today’s standards, but it’s far more ambitious than Mickey Mouse’s silhouette shaking hands with the conductor in Fantasia, and it works well enough.
Much of this is fairly standard Disney song-and-dance routines, except with three cartoon birds involved, but it’s entertaining enough except that Donald really needs to take a cold shower; I can’t decide whether watching a cartoon duck chase after every woman he sees is hilarious or creepy. Probably it’s a bit of both.
The last fifteen minutes or so, though, starting with the song “You Belong to My Heart,” could’ve come from Fantasia, or “Pink Elephants on Parade,” for that matter. It’s more of that fun, psychedelic stuff that I love seeing so much. Unfortunately, there’s just not a whole lot of substance beyond the technique.
So, since this seems to be one of the lesser-watched Disney films, is it worth looking up? For Disney fans, yes, and fans of animation as a medium may also enjoy the second half, and the last segment especially. Most people, though, will probably be safe skipping it.