Now we are up to the feature films of animated shorts from Disney and Saludos Amigos is the first of two aimed at Latin American audiences.
At the beginning of 1941 before Pearl Harbor and US entry into the war Disney was asked by the state department to do a goodwill tour of South America. Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were a result of that effort.
The state department was worried the Latin American countries might be sympathetic to the Nazi’s so it was crucial to do something.
While getting the needed grant from the government to make these shorts Disney was also changing strategy. Instead of the ambitious artpieces of their first 5 films they went with bankable stars like Donald and Goofy and shorts that could be easily put alongside other movies in a theater. Gone was the Fantasound and other expensive theater strategies. This was make something fun and charming using the characters everyone loves. Nothing wrong with that but it has made the movies from 1943-1950 kind of forgettable.
Here’s a trailer
Saludos premiered in August 1942 in Brazil and in 1943 in the US. Part of the reason Disney agreed to these films is they were part of a federal grant and the loss of the European market in the war had been a huge blow. Combined with a strike that year they needed the funds.
The movie is kind of like a travelogue of Latin America sometimes in live action and then 4 animated sets. To a modern day audience it seems out of date and corny but at the time it was very popular.
Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr. has commented that Saludo Amigos “did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in fifty years”.
An article I read in Time magazine January 1943 said people in Rio de Janeiro “screamed so loudly for an encore that another feature had to be halted in mid-reel and Saludos Amigos run off again”
I found a review from the New York Times from 1943 and it called Saludos Amigos “charming” and “a gay 40 minute potpourri”
The movie has four segments that are introduced with live action shots:
Lake Titicaca- Donald Duck visits the lake and deals with a llama in the funniest skit
Next we have
Pedro- A story about a small plane in Santiago who must take the mail when Papa Plane and Mama Plane can’t do it. Pretty much a Rudolph storyline.
Aquarela do Brasil- Set in Rio this short is as if the characters and ideas for the story are being drawn by an artist and those paintings come alive.
We also get introduced to Jose Oliveira who is a Portuguese parrot. He is a cool looking character but tough to understand sometimes.
The soundtrack sold well and is fun and includes samba and other latin inspired dances.
I couldn’t find the box office results but from what I’ve read it sounds like it did pretty well.
So how does it hold up? Not very well I’m afraid. It’s harmless and kind of fun to see what propaganda films looked like in the 40s. The music is engaging and some of the cultural attractions are neat to see (some of them also seem way outdated).
The animated sets are cute but nothing mind blowing. Unlike previous Disney products these are not art but sprightly entertainment. And it’s only 41 minutes so hard to be too tough on it but it didn’t feel like a feature film. However, it’s on Disneys list of animated classics so I watched it.
It’s not horrible just not one of my favorites.
Incidentally it seems you could write an interesting screenplay about this goodwill tour Walt and the animators took, these movies, the enthusiastic response and the dealings with the state department. Just a hunch.
I am a little surprised they didn’t use Mickey since it was a goodwill tour. Still always enjoy seeing Donald and Goofy. The animated segments hold up better than the live action which feel dated partly from the trappings of 40’s technology and dress (and film). The whole project kind of feels like an episode of Sesame Street with humans and animation instead of puppets.
Kids will enjoy each of the animated sections especially if you come from a Latino background and the story of the Goodwill mission is interesting. The war would have been much different if South and Central America had gone with the Nazis.
Overall Grade C Generic but pleasant enough.