Tuesday, September 20, 2011

DATE Night: The Three Caballeros

Miracle might be a bit much...
So it's our second consecutive DATE Night in South America. This is getting kind of expensive. This doesn't bode too well for our relationship going forward, eh? I'm not made out of money, for heaven's sake!!! Last week was a bit of a womp-womp week south of the equator. This week, luckily, things have perked up. It must have been those extra margaritas. I think someone may have slipped a lil' sumthin' sumthin' into one of them, cuz stuff be gettin' crazytown. But in a kind of awesome way.  

The Background:

The basics here are the same as they were for Saludos Amigos. In a nutshell, Walt goes to South America during World War II on a goodwill tour, taking a passel of artists with him, and comes back with enough material for two films (kinda...they coulda have compressed it all into one, really). After waiting to get enough film to make prints during wartime, The Three Caballeros was released to pretty good box office and mixed reviews. It was then promptly forgotten about and only re-released in a truncated version. The advent of The Disney Channel changed all that by finally showing it in its entirety again and its characters have remained a steady presence in parks, merch and shorts.  

The First Impression:

The Disney Project- Part 4.5: The Three Caballeros. Companion to Saludos Amigos, but done with far more whimsy and charm. Combines live action with animation cleverly. Mary Blair (my favorite Disney artist) has given this film a lot of her fantastic sense of style and color. Still crushing on Joe Carioca. Donald's 15 minute breakdown sequence at the end is worthy of Buddy in "Follies". Fully awesome and loads of fun!
February 1, 2010 at 12:28am ·

The Art:
This makes me wish a Mary Blair train
circled the Magic Kingdom.
The adorbs Las Posadas kids.
7/10. This is figuratively and literally the biggest bright spot. Two of my favorite Disney artists have a strong presence in this film. First and foremost is Mary Blair, who really found her artistic voice with these South American movies. Her fingerprints are all over, but two segments that stand out are the train sequence rendered in saturated, bright colors against a black background (the same technique she used on a much larger and more dimensional scare on "it's a small world") and "Las Posadas" (her drawings of the Mexican children are some of the first that would evolve into the Mary Blair style of drawing kids and inspire Walt to have her guide the visual style of "small world"). These two sequences feature some of the most pure representation of her artwork in any Disney film. The second is Ward Kimball, one of Walt's original nine old men and an animation great. He has said that this the film that he was happiest with. Considering his famously wacky sense of humor, it's no surprise that the title number is very much his work.

Pink Donald + fancy dressed lady +
dancing cactus = Disney fever dream.
Beyond that there are so many amazing artistic flourishes and they all tumble by so quickly, all I can do is present some that struck me in semi-chronological order. The moment where the fog rolls in. Literally. Like a blanket. The psychedelic color filtering. Birds that turn into dancing men. Donald blowing up like a balloon. The line that serves as the Latino cousin of the soundtrack in Fantasia, more playful and fun than his just-a-bit-stuffy classical cousin. The gut-busting sequence when Jose and Donald try to stop Panchito from singing. Transition effects in the Mexico section with paintings bleeding into each other. Floating heads. Faces in flowers. Detailing in the stars. Shapes making Busby Berkeley formations. The sky as a Mexican-style blanket. Huge dancing cacti. The whole final section is a parade of color and crazy. Tom turned to me around the time of "You Belong to My Heart" and asked, "Did I miss the part where Donald takes LSD or is it just implied?" You have to see the final third of the movie to believe that there are minds capable of creating such brilliant, beautiful weirdness. If you thought "Pink Elephants on Parade" was out there, gird your loins, love.

The Story:

Three gay (meaning happy?) caballeros
5/10. The concept here is that it is Donald Duck's birthday and he is getting presents from Latin America. He gets a projector which shows a film on birds, the second is a book which tells about Bahia, a Brazilian State, and the third is a pinata. As Donald receives these presents, it allows the story to branch out, giving the many segments larger arching themes and keeping the film from feeling like too disjointed. The story is not strong by any means and the great artwork, joyful colors and brisk pace do a lot to cover up the story flaws.

It was also wise for them to choose one major established character to give the film an anchor. It gives an American audience a point of reference and familiar eyes to see these new worlds, both real and imagined, through. I also stand behind my initial assessment of the surreal end sequence has much in common with Buddy's breakdown at the end of Follies with his "Live, Laugh, Love" number in the Loveland sequence, but without all the sturm und drang.

Wait a minute...
The original shorts are stronger here than in Saludos and the film draws much from the final section of that film, where it really took off and flew. Many pieces of Caballeros are like a Latin flavored Fantasia, with all the bright-sprited cha-cha that it would obviously entail. They use the mixing of live action and cartoon elements in the same frame very convincingly, opening a door that Mary Poppins would burst through some twenty years later. Animated characters, in a lower tech but believable way, are seen dancing with, coming on to, and interacting with real life humans on screen. The effect is quite charming.

The Characters:

She's totally out of his league.
6/10. Donald was a great choice to center the film around. Who more than he would allow room for such amusing hijinks? His short was easily one of the highlights of Saludos and he is a very amusing presence here, taking on the role of the "ugly American abroad" once again. Latin America was laughing at us just as much as with us, but who cares when it's this funny? It makes complete sense for Donald to chase after ladies, pitch a fit when things don't go his way, and generally wreak havoc south of the border. They also get mad kudos for carrying over that Brazilian heartthrob, Joe Carioca. Swoon.

That mischievous Aracuan bird waiting
for the Mary Blair train. 
Where this really improves on the previous films is in its new characters. The real humans have a more specific presence, singing real words and doing things that are organic to the story versus shoehorned in. Pablo the Penguin (in a portion narrated by Sterling Holloway, who voiced Winnie the Pooh), Little Gauchito and his flying burrito (visions of a squishy foil-wrapped cylinder with wings flash before my eyes), the especially hilarious Aracuan bird, who playfully insists on breaking the fourth wall in increasingly brilliant ways, and the third caballero Panchito from Mexico are all charmingly animated and vibrant. They bring much more personality to the film than their rather bland counterparts from Saludos

The Music:

Disembodied heads gawk at a Latin lady
and her three disembodied bust friends.

6/10. The music is a lot of fun. Latin sounds were a staple of American culture in the 40's. The Disney South American films were right in the center of that trend. The music here gives a firm sense of place, and while it doesn't necessarily further a plot since there is not plot, it certainly supports the storytelling as it is. My favorite song in the movie is certainly the lovely "You Belong to My Heart", sung by Dora Luz (see The Miscellanea below for more of her vocal awesomeness). Here, the music is much more well-integrated and plays a much more direct role in how the mini-narratives unfold.

The Gay Scale:

Joe Carioca. Even sexy in drag.
7/10. OK. Let's see. Joe Carioca teases you with his flirtatious ambiguity, making him the sexiest green bird in all of cartoondom. (His delicious voice alone makes him major crush material. Nom nom. Not to mention he gets into drag as Carmen Miranda. He is so yummy that even Donald has to kiss up on him a lil' bit.) The title song proudly proclaims that Donald, Joe Carioca and Panchito are "three gay caballeros" while there is ample eyelash batting, light-loafered dancing, arm kissing and booty scooting with each other. There are two outsider/misfit narratives in "The Cold-Blooded Penguin" (Pablo is not content to live his life unhappily just because that's how he "should") and "The Flying Gauchito" (The little burrito- still the donkey and not the foodstuff- is an underdog who, by using what is unique about himself, comes from behind to win the race). There are a passel of dancing chorus boys, which leads me to believe that at least one gay was in the live person cast. (Come on. Did you see that first one? Nuff said.) There is an appearance by gay icon Carmen Miranda's sister Aurora. (I know it's kind of like getting Dannii Minogue when you were hoping for Kylie, but I'll take it!) There is even a cameo by a rainbow flag towards the end.

But above all this, there is a sense of playfulness, over-the-top-ness and campiness that feels much more queer than the more straight-edged Saludos Amigos. It's like your science teacher Mr. Blunderwomp and your drama teacher Mr. Fanfabulous both went to South America to make videos to teach their classes about what life is like down there. You get three guesses to tell me who made which and the first two don't count.

The Bottom Line:

I buy fiesta more than miracle.
6/10. Ah. This is much better. Though the through line is still a tad flimsy, this feels much, much less like a propaganda film and more like a film that was inspired by the Central and South American cultures. There was improvements all the way around, making this, if not in the upper echelon of Disney animation, an enjoyable trifle. The stronger presence of Mary Blair, the upped queer factor and the unabashed weirdness of the whole affair all combine to add up to something much more substantial than our last excursion south of the border. It's like they took Saludos Amigos, stripped away the NatGeo-ness, turned up the volume and pumped it full of hallucinogens. And that, my friends, adds up to a good time. We all know what will be on in the background of your next fiesta theme party. (Note to self: plan fiesta theme party so that I can play The Three Caballeros in the background.)

The Miscellanea:

The Disney parks have obviously been told that it makes me all tingly to see Joe Carioca and have obliged by sneaking him into a couple of rides. I was lucky enough to see him just under a week ago on "it's a small world". (By the way, in case you were wondering, I am fully in favor of the way they have integrated the Disney characters into the ride. And I'm a small world fanatic. They did it so well!)

Also back in the day, the boat ride in the Mexican Pavilion at Epcot was rather lame. It was like it's a small world with only one country and was pretty much boring unless you had just helped yourself to a shot of tequila or two. Now, however, it is "The Gran Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros" and is kind of rad. It's a lovely little attraction and we get to spend plenty of time with my hunky green friend. It may not be the most thrilling ride, but adds a smudge of whimsy to one of my favorite areas of the park and finally has an identity. You know you are kind of astounded every time you walk inside and all of a sudden it turns from day to night and you feel completely transported. The attraction is very cute, but still I ask- where are the stinkin' animatronics of the Three Caballeros? Really? Relegated to screens? Come on, guys. Our avian friends deserve better.

This is also a great time to share one of my favorite pieces of Disney animation with you. Around the time that the studio was releasing The Three Caballeros, Disney began a collaboration with Salvador Dali. The project was a short called "Destino" was set to the music of a recording by Dora Luz, who also sang "You Belong To My Heart" in Caballeros (there's the connection!). Concepts were bandied about, storyboards were done and about 17 seconds of animation (the segment with the two tortoises) were completed. It was abandoned and laid dormant until Roy E. Disney (bless his soul for keeping history in the forefront of the company) unearthed the project and had Disney animators complete it over fifty years later. With the recent Fantasia 2000 Blu-ray, the short was finally released, years after its 2003 debut. It is one of the most stunning pieces of animation that I have ever seen in my entire life. It pushes artistic boundaries, is completely poetic while maintaining a fascinating narrative, and uses technology and traditional methods to help complete the artistic vision of Disney, Dali and John Hench, the Disney artist who helped translate Dali's ideas into animated form. If you've never seen it, please take a few minutes and watch. I promise you will be absolutely stunned.

So, I'm broke as a joke after a two week international vacation, so our next DATE Night is going to be local and I'll be taking you to a concert. I know, I know. We already did that once, but Fantasia was all classical music. This one will be a bit more contemporary, I promise. Plus, I can't help it that Disney got all package-films-happy during the forties. So Make Mine Music it shall be!

Also, Moved By the Mouse will be going through a very temporary shake-up. As y'all know by now, Tom and I are getting married this Friday. Thusly, we have family in town to entertain and be entertained by over the weekend. Thusly, I will certainly not have time to watch our DATE Night movie by Tuesday. (Yes. I'm sorry to break it to you, but my marriage will come before our DATE Nights, kids. Try not to get too upset.) Thusly, I will be switching the days on the blog cycle I have set up. Tuesday will be my non-DATE Night (if all goes as planned, it will be a big, fat amazewich if you love Mary Blair as much as I do) and Friday we will discuss Make Mine Music. Thanks for being understanding followers. Y'all are the bestest.

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