- Premiere date: 24 August, 1942
- Run time: 42 mins
- Director: Norman Ferguson, Wilfred Jackson, Jack Kinney, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts
- Cast: Clarence Nash, José Oliveira, Pinto Colvig
- Inspired by: Original idea
“The traveller should be cautioned against any reckless behaviour.”
By 1941, Walt Disney’s fledgling film company had created five masterworks – Snow White, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. His artists had grown in confidence and the technology was being produced to push the animated film to new heights. But how do you follow five of the greatest animated films ever produced? The answer, in the case of Disney, was not easily.
To be fair to Walt, it wasn’t entirely his fault. The outbreak of the Second World War had resulted in financial difficulties for the studio (any money made from the films in Europe had to be handed directly to the US Government); they had already been feeling the pinch after a massive expansion shortly before this. With animators threatening strike action – and Snow White the only film to make a profit at the time – it came close to Disney shutting up shop for good. The answer lay in a change of direction during the War Years with the release of a series of ‘package’ films, featuring a compilation of cartoons. For the first of the six, Walt turned to South America…
Original idea? This was the first film which didn’t take a fairy story as its starting point. Instead, the studio was commissioned by the United States Department of State to create a movie intended to improve relations with the countries south of the border. Many South American countries had links with the Nazis, and the USA was hoping to counteract this by showing that they could provide a better alternative. A group of 20 artists, along with Walt, went down for a tour of Argentina, Brasil, Peru and Chile on a fact-finding mission, with a loan from the US Government to produce a goodwill movie, based on the already popular Disney characters. The end result was a mix of live-action documentary footage of the animators touring cities across South America, interspersed with four cartoons looking at aspects of life in the four countries visited: Lake Titicaca, where Donald Duck is a tourist meeting the locals; Pedro, the story of a small plane delivering mail across the Andes; El Gaucho Goofy, where cowboy Goofy learns about his South American counterpart; and Aquarela do Brasil, where the parrot Jose Carioca introduces Donald to the music of Brasil.
Family situation? Other than the extended Disney family of cartoon characters, there isn’t one. This is a snapshot of different cultures, rather than a traditional story with a beginning, middle and end. Although Pedro does feature an anthropomorphic aeroplane who is sent on a mission to deliver the post after his mother and father airplanes are unable to go through with it. But his parents don’t really feature heavily, so we can probably ignore even them…
Y’know – for kids? Interestingly, this was an occasion where the target audience were the adults – and the influential adults, at that. The aim was to convince North Americans that South America was worth building relations with and to show South America that there was a better alternative to the countries sympathetic to the Nazis. And it certainly worked with historians considering the film to have radically improved relations across the Americas. The message may be simple, but the impact was huge.
Princesses, villains and comedy sidekicks? Again, as it isn’t a traditional story, there aren’t any obvious heroes and villains. Other than the South Americans and Nazis, respectively, although this is more about the subtext than a blatant reference throughout the movie. In terms of comedy, Donald Duck and Goofy are always going to be comic foils, although the success of them will depend on your view of the two characters. I’ve always found Goofy slightly annoying (and I’m still not convinced about what creature he’s meant to be – I know it’s supposed to be a dog, but then what does that make Pluto?). Donald has always been a firm favourite, however, and his pratfalls and misunderstandings prove to be well placed in the first film – an extended gag involving Donald attempting to cross a rope bridge on a llama is as funny as you would expect.
Sing-along a showtune? There’s no real musical number to get your teeth into, although the final section does showcase some rather wonderful music from Brasil – in this case Aquarela do Brasil and Tico-Tico no Fubá. Both are fantastic pieces of music, but if you’re after a traditional Disney number to sing along to, you will be sorely disappointed. But you can always use this as a way of getting a bit of world culture in your blood, you heathen…
I have questions: Ok, we’ve already covered the whole ‘what the hell is Goofy meant to be’ debate (I’m going for a weird dog/cow/horse hybrid). The mix of live action and cartoon can feel a bit forced sometimes – and there seems to be no real theme linking it together other than ‘This all happens in South America’. Do the North Americans just assume that every country in South America is exactly the same? Ok, don’t answer that one. But it does seem far too generic a piece to get any nuances around the myriad of cultures found in the continent. Oh, and who thought Jose Carioca was a good idea? He was so popular, that he was brought back in another ‘package’ cartoon a few years later (the 1944 film The Three Caballeros) but he’s rather annoying, if truth be told. I would rather have just had a tour of South America led by Donald Duck for the short run time of the movie – but maybe that’s just me.
Feel-good factor: While there are some funny and, in the case of Pedro, sweet moments in the film, this isn’t one that you would put on to cheer yourself up. This is more a collection of shorts with a specific purpose – the era that this film was produced in doesn’t help in breaking down modern stereotypes either. It’s an interesting historical piece and there are some nice moments, but it won’t turn any frowns upside. I’ll give it a feel-good factor of 3.
You can watch a trailer below:
Next movie: There are another five ‘package’ films made over the next few years, all very much in the same vein of a collection of cartoons (even if they don’t have the same overarching theme of building strong political relations with other countries). I’ll save us all the trauma of repeating what I’ve already said here and skip ahead to The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr Toad (1949) for my next review…