At times education cloaked in entertainment and at other moments entertainment cloaked in education, the recently released double feature of Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros in a single collection entitled The Classic Caballeros Collection are wonderfully fun films. Both are a mixture of live action and animation and explore, at least superficially, some Central and South American cultures.
Originally released in 1942, Saludos Amigos is the older, shorter, and less traditional piece. It follows, in live action, a group of Disney animators as they visit Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. In each locale the animators see bits and pieces of local culture, produce drawings of what they've seen, and then a short animated piece follows which builds upon the drawings and cultural elements. Both Donald and Goofy make appearances in the piece as well as a little plane named Pedro and it marks the first appearance of José Carioca.
While young ones who find Cinderella and more conventional Disney tales amusing may become bored by Saludos Amigos, for a slightly older crowd it is a fascinating look at part of the animation process. The actual moments in the film that are animated will certainly entertain younger audiences, but not enough of the piece is animated to keep them entertained. As a bonus feature, the DVD even includes a more complete documentary look at Disney and his animators' trip to South America.
For its part, The Three Caballeros was a follow-up to Saludos Amigos and released into theatres two years following that feature. Caballeros is more entertainment-based than it's predecessor and consequently more kid-friendly as well. The piece is made up of numerous different animated segments which start with Donald being sent a movie about the South Pole and South America. Throughout Caballeros, Donald learns different things about South America, both true and less than true.
José Carioca makes another appearance in the film, as does Panchito Pistoles. Carioca, Panchito, and Donald make up the titular caballeros, and it is Panchito who shows Carioca and Donald around Mexico when the film ventures that far north. Donald, Carioca, and Panchito spend a little more time observing live-action women in the film than they probably would in a present-day animated feature, but nothing is overly salacious. Other tales in the film include one of a penguin who wishes to venture to warmer climes and a little gaucho who finds a winged burro.
Outside of the aforementioned documentary, other special features on the DVD release include two short animated features, “Don Donald” and “Contrary Condor,” as well as excerpts from a CBC interview with Walt Disney. They are all interesting, but certainly geared towards different audiences.
The two films that make up The Classic Caballeros Collection are both, in their own way, hugely entertaining, but the animation and storytelling never quite reach the heights that some of the more canonical classic Disney works obtain. However, as they are somewhat different in their execution from those pieces, Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros may prove more interesting.