With his company reeling from disappointing returns on PINOCCHIO & FANTASIA, and his studio poisoned by a bitter labor strike, Walt Disney must have been glad to accept a Fed-sponsored South American trip. It was part Good Neighbor Policy & part field research for Walt & a group of his top creative people to tour, party & brainstorm for what became SALUDOS AMIGOS!/’43 and THE THREE CABALLEROS/’45. If only the trip or, for that matter, the films held more intrinsic interest. The smooth progress of the traveling party and the bland films that came out leave Theodore Thomas with something of a dramatic hole at the core of this snazzy documentary. Fortunately, most of the ‘talking heads’ are unexpectedly frank, especially John Canemaker who comes down pretty hard on SALUDOS AMIGOS. That short feature (44 minutes) is included in a superb restoration and its generic approach makes you wonder what Disney & Co. brought back after 3 months. Canemaker only spots dabs of real South American flavor in the final section on Brazil, but ‘Gaucho Goofy’ is also a treat, largely for its clever visual transitions.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Make this a Good Neighbor Policy double bill with IT’S ALL TRUE/’94, a far more dramatic trip with Orson Welles in the saddle. Or discover Disney’s rarely seen WWII propaganda films in WALT DISNEY ON THE FRONT LINES: THE WAR YEARS.
NOTE: Rather than a poster, here’s an original/unpublished drawing from animator & historian John Canemaker. One of the reasons he’s such a fine animation historian is because he’s also such a fine animator, though rarely in the Disneyesque style of this quick sketch.