What exactly was Walt Disney’s fascination with South America that he chose to make two animated features focused on that locale? More importantly, why did he choose to make these films a collection of short, unconnected stories, rather than a single unified plotline?
These were the questions going through my head as I sat through this seventy-two minute film. Believe me, it felt much longer than seventy-two minutes.
The movie opens up simply enough: It’s Donald Duck’s birthday, and he’s opening presents his friends have sent him. Somehow this leads into a few shorts, entirely unrelated to anything or each other. I didn’t mind the beginning, especially when I heard the familiar voice of Sterling Holloway (who would later go on to voice Winnie the Pooh) narrating the first piece. I thought to myself, “Okay, I’m probably not going to love this, but I’m sure the shorts will be cute enough and easy to watch.”
Well, they were, at least as long as they went on. After two pieces we are then re-introduced to Jose Carioca, the cigar-smoking bird from Saludos Amigos, and at this point any semblence of a plotline seems to disappear as the movie dissolves into one song and dance number after another. The two birds jump into a book, are encountered by live-action people, sing and dance with them for a bit, and repeat this whole process a few more times for good measure. By the time it’s all over, so is the movie.
I admit to getting fidgety during the latter half of this film. It’s not as though there was a very loosely tied-together plot; the plot simply doesn’t exist. The birds (the duo becomes a threesome after Panchito Pistoles is introduced into the mix) sing and dance alongside real-life actors… and that’s about it.
I suppose perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the film. To be fair, it’s a good representation of what Disney was capable of doing with animation at the time, and the combination of live-action with animation was well done. Still, I couldn’t shake that feeling that this felt like a final project for an animation student, something unique and different to show a professor what they’re capable of doing. It just never really felt like a Disney movie to me, and certainly not one that would be released in theaters. Then again, this was made in the middle of World War II, so perhaps the banality appealed to people who had far more pressing matters on their minds.
It’s not a bad movie, per se. It’s simply just not my kind of movie. If Walt Disney wanted to create a love story to South America, he could have done so while still creating a full-length narrative to engage the viewer. Instead, we’re left with some clever animation and baffling live-action representations of a few dances, but not much else. Here was the perfect opportunity to dedicate an entire animated film to South America or one of its countries (something Disney has still yet to do, unless you count the somewhat ambiguous locale of The Emperor’s New Groove) and the chance was simply passed over.
I suppose I’m simply not a fan of these “short” collections. With the exception of Fantasia, I find them tedious and not truly fitting for a big-screen. Maybe this would be more entertaining as a child, or perhaps its simply one of those films that you must have seen as a child to enjoy as an adult. Either way, I doubt I’ll be watching this film again. I prefer Donald Duck on the small screen, taking pratfalls and quacking angrily, but at least following some sort of logical storyline.