Monday, January 18, 2016

Saludos Amigos (1942)

Walt Disney and his artists whisk audiences away to South American in this short animated package feature. The film stands as an assemblage of band new short subjects centered on the exhibition of a select cultures and customs South America nations discovered during a visit by Walt Disney and a team of his artists to the neighboring continent. Despite the film consisting of a rather short running time and its overall lacking the high artisanship of Disney’s prior full length animated features displayed, this intercultural minded package movie proved effective enough to warrant a sequel during a difficult time for the animation studio.

Doanld Duck and his new friend Jose Carioca.
Saludos Amigos is an animated feature showcasing cultural aspects of South American counties through a package of four short subjects. While on a goodwill trip to South American Walt Disney and a select group of his artists where inspired by the people, colors, and culture of the nations of Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Peru. The result was a series of four cartoons. Assembled together along with footage of what Walt and his group experienced comes this feature. The shorts share the following: We visit Lake Titicaca in Peru through the eyes of Donald Duck. Next is a story of a small anthropomorphic airplane who must brave a mighty storm over the Andes to deliver the air mail in a region of Chile. Goofy shares the customs of the native gaucho, which is likened to that of Argentina’s version of a cowboy. In the final segment Donald Duck is swept away by the music and art of Brazil with the help of a musical parrot named Jose Carioca.

Pedro, the braze baby mail plane.
Even though this Disney feature lacked the fairytale qualities and artistic visions of the studio’s most celebrated film up to this time, it still remains very Disney in style. The film is not much more than a compilation of four brand new shorts packaged together along with 16 mm color footage of the recent Disney goodwill visit to various Latin nations, held together with the aid of narration (Fred Shields). With familiarity for Disney audiences these shorts consist of a Donald Duck cartoon as well as a Goofy cartoon. The cute tale of a baby airplane in this feature stands very well even if it was presented alone, away from being tied to this motion picture. The Donald Duck and Jose Carioca short could be likened to lesser quailty Fantasia segment on a lesser scale with a Latin flare as Jose Carioca serenades us to the sounds of Brazilian while the screen is literally painted with images inspired by the beautiful country.

As a singular feature the finished product is a bit jumbled. Any of the four segments could have been short subjects that played separately before any random feature film at that time. In fact the shorts all would play years later on television and home video divided from each other like long lost siblings, but still to the enjoyment of Disney animation before the feature saw its own home video release as a whole film again. Despite the randomness of the film and its segments, it was produced for a reason. Saludos Amigos was a product of an important endeavor by the American government at a time when the United States was unsure what was happening to the war torn world surrounding them.

In 1941, before the nation had joined World War II, The United States was a neutral county with fears that Nazi Germany was gaining sympathizers in the Western Hemisphere which could one day become a threat. In hopes of gaining allies in South America the State Department formed the Good Neighbor policy and issued a series of goodwill tours throughout the continent, in many cases with celebrities in tow, in hopes building bounds with their neighbors to the south. One of these tours was for Walt Disney and an assemblage of studio artists. The State Department recognized the popularity of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters in these counties and saw this as an opportunity for a way to gain a further bond with nations and their peoples that American had not yet built a strong bond with.

At the time Walt was to set on this tour he was clashing with most of the artists at his studio who were beginning to turn on him as a massive artist strike over wages had formed outside his studio gates. The goodwill tour provided Walt with time away from the stress of running a studio, allowing him to unwind and gain new inspirations while his brother and partner Roy Disney took this time to settle the strike away from the watching eye of his creative sibling.

Walt Disney (center) dances learns a customary dace on his tour.
During this tour, which is lightly covered in the live action segments of the feature, Walt and his artists were introduced to a world of new customs, cultures, colors, and sounds that would inspire them to grow in their art. Many of the artists, though not named, are featured in these segments as their new, vivid artwork they produced is showcased. The memories from this trip for decades would inspire new styles and color composition in future Disney films and other endeavors upon further observation of these artists styles before and after the trip,

The animated segments may have been nothing more that glorified short subjects, but when the war came to the United States the Disney studio was being minimized as artists left to fight and the studio’s production was drastically cut down as most of the facilities on the lot was being used by the military. Saludos Amigos was a way to keep the Disney animators working, practicing their craft while producing relatively inexpensive products for North and South America while the European markets were closed off during these war years. The result was oversimplified versions of these cultures with delighted some South Americans, also insulted others, while educating audiences of the United States that these nations were not underdeveloped as many unworldly Americans had thought, as were able to have just glimpses of development of the large building and sophisticated art these nations had to offer on screen.

Goofy manifests what it is like to be a goucho.
With appearances from popular Disney Characters such as Donald Duck and Goofy, voiced respectfully by Clarence Nash and Pinto Colvig, Saludos Amigos pleased audiences with the light whimsy that movie goers and children loved from Walt Disney’s shorts. With relatively good box office numbers from by North and South American Disney would do something that Walt was not too fond of in his career, producing a sequel. 1945’s The Three Caballeros would also feature Donald Duck and Jose Carioca, while introducing a brand new character to round out the trio, the Mexican rooster Panchito Pistoles.

Even though the feature attempts to tie all the shorts together with the loosely assembled travelogue style editing, the feature does suffer from its randomness and an abrupt ending, leaving very little of a feeling that one just watched a “feature film.” Unlike most Disney features in the studio’s history Saludos Amigos would only be re-released once, that being in 1949 and due to its short run time it would be package as a double bill with Dumbo, another shorter Disney feature.

Contemporary audiences may not be aware that this Disney feature may have even existed as the Disney studio was going through darker period in feature animation. This would officially be the first in a series of six “package features” the studio produced during this period of its history, not counting the half live action, half animated feature The Reluctant Dragon which was more of a visual tour of the studio. During this period the studio would continue to focus on inexpensive animated subjects simply to keep the artists in practice and bring in a modest income to keep the studio afloat finically. However these features lacked the sophisticated qualities of Snow White or Pinocchio.

Despite being a far lesser known product Saludos Amigos, or rather the goodwill tour itself, would prove to be a fruitful experience for the studio artists that made the excursion. For decades the sights and sounds of the Good Neighbor tour Walt and his artists experienced continued to inspire their own creativity as they continued producing further work into the future, ever expanding their minds on what they can do with their artistic mediums.

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