Saludos Amigos and The Three Cabarellos are two films inspired by Walt Disney’s trip to Latin America. In 1941, Disney took this “goodwill tour” with several animators and artists from the studio in an attempt to obtain some live-action documentary footage and as a favor to the US government. These wartime years were hard on the studio and Walt Disney personally. First of all, around this time was the infamous animators strike. Artists from the studio were tired of not being paid what they felt they deserved and Disney refused to unionize, which resulted in a huge strike which was a huge blow to Disney on a personal level. In addition to that, World War II had caused profits from Europe to be cut off, which was a huge chunk of the studios market. This meant that instead of making the usual feature films, Disney needed to shift his focus to shorter segments that would be pieced together as a “package film.” Saludos Amigos and The Three Cabarellos start this 7 year tradition, which lasted until the release of Cinderella in 1950. The history of Walt Disney’s goodwill tour is a fascinating one and is detailed in the documentary Walt & El Grupo, currently available to stream on Disney+.
The first film Latin American released after his trip was Saludos Amigos. There are four segments in Saludos Amigos, with live-action footage interspersed throughout featuring Walt and his animators. Each segment tells a different story, features several familiar and new characters. In the first segment, Donald Duck goes to Lake Titicaca to meet the locals.
After that, we get a story about an airplane named Pedro who is on a mission to pick up mail from Mendoza. Then we get a “How-To” segment from Goofy, in which he teaches the viewers about gauchos. Finally, we then conclude in Brazil with a new character named Jose Carioca. Saludos Amigos, the shortest of all Disney animated films to date (clocking in at 42 minutes), is a fun ride that I would highly encourage people to seek out and watch. The segments are fun, entertaining, and sometimes informative (though often outdated).
The Three Cabarellos is a more cohesive story, with a consistent through-line. All of these segments are connected and feature Donald Duck on adventures with his friends, Jose Carioca and Panchito Pistoles. Together, these three make up the titular “cabarellos” or “gentlemen”. This makes for more of unified story, despite the segments all differing in a few ways. As opposed to Saludos Amigos, which felt more intended to entertain, the material here is noticeably more informational. This could likely lead a casual viewer to be taken out of the movie a bit. Also, with a longer runtime, it overstays its welcome and is not as concise as Saludos Amigos. This isn’t to say it’s not fun, however. It is fascinating to see early examples of live action and animation together, a process that was virtually seamless by Mary Poppins is quite a bit rougher here. The music and dancing are also a highlight.
One note about both of these films- they are incredibly outdated, both in their representation of culture and their representation of gender. It is always important to understand historical and cultural context before going into a film, particularly if that film is aimed at children. Things like Donald Duck excessively ogling women sticks out, among other things, and does leave a bad taste in ones mouth. I am happy though, that Disney has acknowledged their often problematic history and committed to doing better moving forward. For their “Stories Matter” movement, click here.
Live action remake: There is no remake planned for either of these films.
Saludos Amigos and The Three Cabarellos in the theme parks: There is not much representation of either of these films in the theme parks, save one major exception. The “Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Cabarellos” is a boat ride at Walt Disney World, and takes place in a Mayan pyramid. Somewhat similar to “It’s a Small World”, this ride features Jose and Panchito as they search for their friend Donald.
Spin-Off: An animated spin-off titled Legend of the Three Cabarellos made its North American debut upon the launch of Disney+ in 2019. This series is a blast, and follows the three characters on crazy adventures across time. I have watched a few episodes and highly recommend the show if you are looking for funny, quality animated television in the style of DuckTales.
Both films and the show are currently available to stream on Disney+.