Monday, October 10, 2011

DATE Night : Saludos Amigos

I know, I know! I'm such a great date! I took you to South America for our DATE Night and Saludos Amigos! Pretty awesomesauce, eh? Well don't thank me yet. I can't exactly say that this was the best ever. Let's shake a tailfeather (I'm looking at you, Joe Carioca, you sexy thing you) and see what's gone amiss south of the border.

The Background:

Don't mind me boys. Dance it up!
The fact that Bambi wasn't a rousing success left Disney in a sticky wicket during World War II. With key markets cut off and the general public not quite following them on their ambitious artistic quest, they had to find a way to keep afloat. Ingeniously, Walt accepted an offer from the government to go on a good will tour of South America, but on the condition that he would be allowed to bring a group of artists from the studio along with him. They would spend their time not just shaking hands, but creating films. The whole affair was underwritten, so even if the movies didn't ignite at the box office, making them was guaranteed to be a financially sound move and allowed his artists to stay creatively active and gainfully employed when the war and a strike at the studio back in the States could have shut him down. The film was well-recieved, both capitalizing on and helping to further the cultural exchange between the two continents.

The First Impression:

The Disney Project- Part 4: Saludos Amigos. An odd duck of a film. A lot of stock looking live footage (often with awkward accompanying audio tracks) cut with short cartoons and hijinks with characters like Goofy and Donald. I can't say I enjoyed it terribly, though Pedro the Plane is cute and Joe Carioca is one sexy bird!
January 31, 2010 at 10:37pm ·

The Art:

Pedro's parents.
5/10. The film is an odd hybrid of live action footage, that despite being remastered is still rather grainy, and animated sequences. The live portions look rather like a film reel they used to show in classrooms or vintage National Geographic. As far as animation, in essence we are talking about four shorts. Three of them are are on par with the shorts that Disney was doing at the time. One featured Donald, one Goofy and one a new character who was a plane named Pedro. They are fine if unspectacular. The Pedro section does have one really lovely shot that stood out of his parents waiting for him to come home with blues and grays blanketing the scene and spotlights cutting through the dark like wounds. There are also amusing shots of the plane flying over a large animated map and scaring the poor cows, who just can't seem to catch a break.

Oh, Mary Blair. You know how to make me
squeal with delight, dontcha?
The movie really kicks in artistically on the last segment, called "Aquarela do Brasil", which means "Watercolor of Brazil". It all starts with a hand using a watercolor paintbrush to create impressions of Brazil. Those pieces begin to burst forth with animation. Waterfalls surge from the paintings. Flowers melt and become dancing flamingoes. Flowers sing. A tree morphs into the back of a bird. A bunch of bananas turn out to be the beaks of a durante of toucans (Yup. That's the collective noun. I googled it.). The art is unexpected, playful and gorgeous.

More Mary Blair fantasticness.
Also, I want to give a shout out to Mary Blair, who did inspirational art for Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Peter Pan, created the visual style for it's a small world and did the murals at the Contemporary in Walt Disney World, among other Disney projects. She's the tall blonde that you see in the live footage and her art is instantly recognizable. She was married to another Disney artist, Lee Blair, when she came to work at Disney. This trip was a real turning point in her artistic voice. It's where she really discovered her unique style and sense of color. You'll hear tons more from me about her in the near future, but this is where she really starts to blossom.

The Story:

4/10. Not gonna lie. This film lacks in the story department. It feels more like a rather hastily thrown together piece of propaganda than a movie. There is nothing really linking the disparate sections together save the fact they all occur in South America. The sections themselves are not so bad. In Donald's section, he plays the American tourist in Lake Titicaca (Stop snickering! That's its name! It can't help it!), observing the locals and tangling with a jitterbugging llama. Goofy takes on the role of a gaucho, which is an Argentine cowboy, and hijinks ensue along the lines of his "How To" shorts. Pedro the young Chilean plane is a bit more problematic. He's not the most compelling lil' guy, cute as he may be and they aren't able to wring too much drama out of a single trip across the mountains, try as they might. It's a cute short, but rather forgettable. The final segment, "Aquarela do Brasil", has absolutely no story whatsoever in a traditional sense, but the fascinating artistry more than makes up for the lack of narrative.

The Characters:

5/10. Two of the best characters in the film- Donald and Goofy- can't really be attributed to it, well-used though they may be. I mentioned that the characters in the "Pedro" short are charming but a bit on the bland side. There's a archetypical dad, mom, and young one who triumphs despite hardships. There is absolutely no character development in the humans in the live action sequence, who come and go, dancing and singing things that have nothing to do with the music that you hear (see The Music below).

Hola, Jose. Te quiero.
That leaves us with...sigh...eyelash batting...Jose Carioca. Ah, Jose Carioca. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. If someone were to tell me that I would have a crush on a green bird one day I would have looked at you cross-eyed and showed you the door. But then I met this little guy and fell a little bit in love. First off there's that carefree Brazilian accent. Then there's the impeccable sense of style. He's a fantastic dancer. He is exuberant, excitable and expressive. Plus, he is effortlessly charming. He's has the kind of sexiness that transcends sexuality. He's the type of bird who would be as comfortable showing affection or flirting with the men as he would with the women. He knows the power in his charisma. I heart Jose Carioca 4ever. Luckily, we'll be running into him again more in The Three Caballeros.

The Music:

5/10. Save the fantastic "Aquarela do Brasil", the music in the film is atmospheric but unremarkable and they don't do much to really use or highlight it. It kind of makes for a cha-cha cousin of white noise. I will also take this moment to say that I find it rather odd that the sound during the live action sequences usually doesn't match what we see. It just makes it look like it was badly dubbed.

The Gay Scale:

The love in undeniable.
As are the pink dress and fancy headwear.
5/10. Despite a poster claiming that Saludos Amigos is Disney's "gayest musical Technicolor feature", there isn't all that much that is queer in this first South American jaunt. Jose Carioca is of questionable sexual orientation and seems more of a equal opportunity flirtation machine, though as I admitted before, he certainly churned my butter. The only other character that can be read as gay is actually Goofy's horse in the gaucho section. Though you never can tell these things with horses, he seems male, with whiskers and all. But he also seems to be quite enamored with the Goof. He cries at the sound of the ballad the Goofy "sings" while wearing a fruity flowered hat and later dons a pink dress when the two have a dance number together. It was enough to set my gaydar off, though it may be inaccurate in the field of equine sexual preference in relation to humoresque canines.

The Bottom Line:

5/10. Not so successful this time around. This film starts the trend of package films that would carry the studio through the forties. This first however, is probably their least successful artistically. Saludos Amigos feels very made to order. Insert American cultural icon A into foreign place B to learn about C. That coupled with it's tiny running time (less than 45 minutes) make for a movie that feel like a plastic baggie full of celery stalks and peanut butter when you really wanted a Little Debbie. You know it's not bad and it's good for you, but where is the fun in it?

The Miscellanea:

There is a fantastic documentary about this period in Disney history called Walt and El Grupo. It does a fantastic job giving background on the whole goodwill tour, warts and all. I highly recommend it.

On the DVD to the documentary, one of the bonus feature is the uncensored version of this film, which is the one that I watched. The only thing that has been changed is putting a cigarette back in Goofy's cowboy segment. We all know how I feel about censorship. They can claim that kids look up to Goofy and would want to emulate him and I would say really? When I'm a parent I'll be happy to let my kids laugh along with Goofy, but I would't really want them to act a fool like him. He's often more of a what-not-to-do. Plus Jose Carioca is seldom seen in the self same film without a cigar in his mouth. I will say that at least in this case they have given us both versions so that we can choose which we want to watch with or without our children.

Apparently, some folks were none to happy about how Chile was represented by Disney in the "Pedro" short and so Chilean cartoonist Rene Rios Boettiger created the character of Condorito in protest.Here are a few clips of the character Condorito. I can't say this lil' guy is terribly flattering to tell you the truth, but maybe it's a cultural thing.

Here is an interesting niblet where animator Bill Tytla discusses animating Jose Carioca. And we all know how grateful I am to him for animating one of my biggest crushes. Swoon.

Well. What were your thoughts? Did you get more out of the movie than I did? Are you as smitten with Jose Carioca? Careful how you answer that. I can get a bit possessive. Did you feel like you were watching a kind of lame, outdated educational film from lower school? Am I missing something? Were you sipping on margaritas when you watched and did it help? If so, did you feel even drunker when it hit the "Aquarela do Brasil"section?

OK. So our first week in South America didn't go so well. But I have a little surprise for you. We're staying an extra week! I pulled a few strings and hopefully week two of our stay will be an improvement. Plus I want to spend a little more time with Jose Carioca. Jealous? You should be. But don't worry, next week there will be The Three Caballeros on our DATE Night! A veritable smorgasbord! But hand off Jose. He's mine. Got it?

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