Sunday, February 5, 2012

1942 - Saludos Amigos

First of all, I know you were expecting Bambi this week, but there was a snag in the writing, so I’m skipping ahead into the start of the Anthology Age. Normally, at the start of an age, I’ll discuss my reasons for grouping these movies, but this one has a distinct and interesting origin story all its own…

Whenever I mention this undertaking to anyone, I find that this is the first film that makes them say “Huh?” You can expect a lot of that this month. With the war in full swing, money was tight, and people didn’t want in-depth storytelling, as the success of Dumbo and failure of Bambi showed. So Disney refocused on making collections of shorts for their feature releases. And they were given a little help in this direction by the State Department, of all things. See, the governments of South America were getting pretty cozy with the Axis powers, and the people of the USA were all, as we have seen, pretty racist, and so didn’t care. Uncle Sam knew this was no good, and figured a good ol’ dose of propaganda would set ‘em straight. So they paid to have Disney and his team flown all over the continent to make a series of shorts, showing the people of North and South America that they’re not so different after all. Swelling with fraternal brotherhood? So am I. So get a big bowl for feijoada and a frosty caipirinha, and let‘s talk about Saludos Amigos.

The film is split into four shorts, corresponding to Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil. I suppose that means I should do a list review again, but you’ll have plenty of those by the end of the month. Besides, there’s not much to say. The Peru segment has Donald going to a rural village by Lake Titicaca where he learns about llamas, and hilarity ensues. The Argentina segment is quite similar, with Goofy learning to be a gaucho. Both of those are funny enough, and quite educational, though I seriously doubt that gauchos eat by holding their meat and bread in one hand and then holding it in their teeth and using their knives to cut off each bite when it’s already in their mouth. And yeah, that was a clunky sentence, but it’s a very impractical method to describe, so don‘t blame me.

Also very impractical: Whatever they're doing here.
The Chile section is about a plane named Pedro, who‘s the son of the big mail plane and has to make a dangerous delivery over the Andes when his father falls ill. I watched this with a Spanish class once, and there‘s a bit at the end where it really does look like Pedro died on his return, and it‘s got a surprising impact. When you can get a class full of jerky middle-schoolers to be paying rapt attention to the probably-not-death of your comedy cartoon plane, you‘re doing something right. Most interesting to me is that this short inspired the creation of South America‘s most famous cartoon, Condorito. A Chilean cartoonist was offended by Chile being represented by a baby plane, and decided to make his own cartoon to counter it. But considering that Pedro is heroic and triumphs over difficult odds, while Condorito, as a work, is racist, sexist, reactionary, and worst of all, trite and predictable, I don‘t think he came out on top.

Brazil gives us an inarguably fine cultural mascot, Jose Carioca, a smooth talking parrot. He shows up and takes Donald out to see the Rio nightlife, and then the movie stops. Wait, what? That was only 42 minutes! That’s barely feature length. Wow, okay. So anyway.

This was actually surprisingly good. The best part was the live action footage showing Walt and his animators on their goodwill tour, interacting with the locals, making their initial sketches, and smoking like chimneys. And it’s clear that they really gave it their all. I was expecting more of the (admittedly light for the time) racial insensitivity that I’ve made fun of here, but there’s almost none to see. They depict every culture fairly and, as far as I can tell, accurately. And that was one of the things that helped the movie achieve its political goal. When people saw the modern cities and fashionably dressed people, they realized that the barriers between them weren’t that extreme. And while the portrayals of the rural people were a little quaintsy, they never made the people look primitive or otherwise condescended to them. Sorry, if this all sounds a little sappy, but it‘s not for nothing that a prominent film historian said this movie "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".

(I don’t know what that guy looked like, so here’s Deems Taylor again.)
Yeah, that’s pretty much it. It’s basically 3 comedy shorts and a musical bit, so there’s not much to say. The final part, with Brazil, is the most promising, yet shortest, so it’s for the best that there’s a part 2 that includes Joe Carioca to a far greater degree, as well as extensively covering Mexico. See you next week for that.


* Speaking of Joe Carioca, in an attempt to bolster their international bona fides, his voice actor actually got a credit. Starting in the next film, all voice actors receive credit, and that little injustice is finally rectified.

* When showing the initial plane flight down south, the narrator says “Three days later, they land in Rio de Janiero.” Three days to fly from Anaheim to Rio? Jeepers cripes. Also: So much smoking on the plane.

Doesn't it look like he should be holding something?

* Speaking of, the DVD I have has looped a few seconds of footage to avoid showing Goofy smoking a cigarette. I’m not as entirely in favor of that as I am the deletion of racial stereotypes, but I can certainly understand it. I mean, I was smart enough as a kid to never think smoking was cool, even when I saw Ray Stantz do it. And he was the second coolest Ghostbuster. And I really doubt kids look at Goofy doing anything at all and think “Hey, that’s a good idea.” But then, most kids are pretty stupid, and I definitely get not wanting to put a cigarette in the mouth of one of your mascots. Joe Carioca smoked a cigar, which was left in, and Disney and the rest of the animators were smoking pretty much constantly, so they don’t remove it when it would interfere with characterization or historicity. So we’re cool.

* And yes, I know now that Ray was the lamest Ghostbuster. But I was a kid, and I just said, they’re stupid. Egon, however, was and remains the coolest.


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