Monday, February 1, 2010

"The Three Caballeros Ride Again"

In 1941, Disney, at the behest of the US government, went on a goodwill tour of South America with the purpose of making a movie and encouraging the Latin Americans not to join the Nazis. The resulting movie, Saludos Amigos, is no one's idea of a classic--a vaguely amusing but mostly mediocre collection of four cartoons interspersed with live action footage. However, it was successful enough that the company decided to do another film on the same theme, 1944's Three Caballeros.

Alas, I am at a loss for words trying to sum up The Three Caballeros. It is by far the most anarchic, psychedelic movie the company has ever made; I would prefer to avoid lazy, uncreative statements like "THE FILMMAKERS MUST HAVE BEEN ON DRUGS HUR HUR," but darned if it doesn't feel like a lysergically-enhanced experience. I could describe parts of it, but there's no way I would be able to capture in words what the movie feels like. Basically, the caballeros in question are Donald, a Brazilian parrot named Joe (or sometimes José--it's sort of unclear; he had previously appeared in the final segment of Saludos Amigos) Carioca, and Panchito Pistoles, a Mexican rooster. Here's a bizarre/awesome picture that I found here:



They visit live-action areas in Brazil and Mexico, where Donald lusts after the live-action women; these visits are interspersed with fully-animated sequences the likes of which I cannot describe. I would recommend just watching it. It's one of my favorite Disney movies. At the very least you should watch the title song sequence; it's not the strangest thing in the movie, but it gives you a good idea of what to expect, and it's highly entertaining both visually and musically. Plus, it will become relevant later on in this write-up.

Fast-forward fifty-six years, and we have Don Rosa's "Three Caballeros Ride Again" (he would do another Caballeros story a few years later, but let's stick with this one for now). This is notable because it's the first time Rosa ever had worked outside the Barks canon, which he had previously clung to with great tenacity.

As he somewhat inartfully makes clear, the motivation for this story was to give Donald a chance to hang out with actual peers.



It's a good point, though: Scrooge and HDL sometimes fulfill the "friend" role to one degree or another, but obviously there are generational gulfs here. Even if you reject the idea that a mere girl can't be a "pal," the fact remains that his relationship with Daisy is on perpetually-shaky ground. And the less said about Gladstone the better. Who else is there? Gyro is always off in his own little world, and Gus Goose…well, Gus isn't exactly a dynamic character, is he? So, yeah, there's no doubt about it, Donald is isolated, as, I suppose, befits the quintessential modern that he is.

But here, the goal is to ameliorate that, at least for the length of a story. I admire the impulse: if Rosa has one big fault, it's the constant abuse that Donald takes in his stories (not all of them--but a lot of them). Of course, Donald also got banged around plenty in Barks' stories, but the difference is that in those cases it was generally his own fault, due to his hubris or hotheadedness. Ofttimes in Rosa's stories, these things just happen to him through no fault of his own, and Scrooge's exaggerated indifference to his plight is played for laughs, which is NOT FUNNY (one story, "The Last Lord of El Dorado," is completely ruined for me by an especially egregious instance of this). I don't think there's malice involved, exactly (he does sometimes give Donald notably heroic roles; eg, in "Return to Xanadu" and "The Quest for Kalevala"); I just think that Rosa has a blindspot to this one aspect of the Duckverse. So--I'm glad to see him evening out the karmic balance a little bit.



(The above image is apropos of nothing beyond keeping down the text-to-image ratio, but it does make me laugh, and it's unusually risqué for a duck comic)

An obvious issue comes up: Rosa's stories are in a cartoony but generally realistic vein. The movie is the furthest thing from 'realistic' you will find in the Disney canon. Together, they fight crime (sorry--the urge to say that was overwhelming). The point is, mashing the two together can't help but come across to anyone who knows the movie as somewhat dissonant.



Not that that's necessarily a bad thing, but it sure is...well, strange. See? Suddenly deciding that Donald has a rakish past because of his eyebrow-raising concupiscence in the film--highly questionable! It's all in good fun and I don't really mind it, but it would be difficult to deny that it goes against pretty much everything that's ever been established about Donald as a comic book character.

Side note: throughout most of The Three Caballeros, Carioca has a cigar in his mouth to go with that umbrella. It's no surprise that he's apparently kicked the habit for this story, but what is notable is the fact that this is completely uncensored in the DVD of the film--whereas for the "Pecos Bill" section of Melody Time, Bill's cigarette has been meticulously removed from every frame, and a verse of a song that makes mention of his smoking has been clipped out entirely. It just goes to show that Disney's censorship policy isn't based on any kind of principle--it's just a series of randomly-firing neurotic whims.

Hmm? Oh, right. I guess there's some sort of actual story here too, although truth be told, it's probably the least interesting thing about this. So as you may have gathered, Donald and HDL are in Mexico so that the latter can do some sort of Junior Woodchucks thing. Donald runs into José (that's what Rosa calls him, so that's what I'll call him here) and they both run into Panchito, whom they join on his search for a lost silver mine. The bad dude pictured a few images above tries to stop them.



That's kind of the pattern for a lot of the other two caballeros' interaction with Donald--he gets bashed around in ways that somehow turn out well, they laud him for his awesomeness when actually it was just random luck, repeat. I don't find it to be a particularly compelling dynamic, to be honest--it makes it seem as though their admiration for him is based more on random happenstance than anything else, and it makes him less of an active character.

At any rate, to make a long story short, they find the treasure, there's a train chase, they beat the villain, but the treasure turns out to be worthless, and they laugh and laugh and laugh in a bit that seems to be inspired by Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It's honestly not all that thrilling.

However! Then! Oh yes--THEN! (there are actually two sections of the story where they do this)--we get THIS glorious part:



HOLY SHIT IS THAT EVER THE MOST METATEXTUAL THING EVER OR WHAT. And it goes on for several pages (in the movie, as you know if you watched the above clip, it is specified that they're three gay caballeros--I wonder if Rosa cut that bit himself, or if it was his editors). It's completely unjustifiable on any rational level, but somehow, it works--if you're going to have a story that's kind of by definition an incoherent mishmash, you might as well go all the way, right?

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7 Comments:

Anonymous Michiel P said...

There's a reprise of the song at the end of Rosa's second 3C-story ("The Three Caballeros And The Preposterous Title With Absolutely No Connection To The Story"), where the Caballeros are "gay" again. I guess Don Rosa was not responsible for the cut, then.

Honestly not all that thrilling? I beg to differ. My very first Donald Duck magazine had a splendid Daan Jippes cover featuring the Three Caballeros and the first part of Walt Kelly's adaptation of the movie. Those birds are special to me! So I was very excited to see them back together again. The two other birds are very colourful and somehow their company makes Donald more unique, equally special, instead of just another white Duck amongst his fellow Ducks.

February 4, 2010 at 11:45 AM  
Blogger GeoX said...

D'oh! That's what I GET for not doing the responsible thing and rereading BOTH stories before my writeup! I'd previously read a few old Three Caballeros stories that Gemstone reprinted at some time or another, and they didn't do that much for me. But it's quite probable that if I had more history with them, the story would resonate more than me. I can definitely relate to that dynamic.

(And I'll admit, even for me, the train section ain't half bad)

February 4, 2010 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger margaret said...

does anyone know where to obtain the uncesored version? this was available in the early 80;s; i videotaped it . They were not limited to smoking tobacco in it. Anybody seen it?

November 22, 2010 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Faster, Harder, More Challenging GeoX said...

Could you provide a link backing that up? Because it would be interesting if true, but I'm pretty darn certain it's NOT true.

November 22, 2010 at 5:01 PM  
Anonymous Richie said...

"Caray! Donal' AGAIN puts us to shame! We think only of ourselves, while he thinks of his little niños!"

This was among the first comics I got to read, coming fresh from the cartoons, and...I think my heart grew three times that day!

April 23, 2011 at 7:13 PM  
Blogger angie said...

you imagine a comic book series devoted to the three caballeros? would be great!

April 20, 2012 at 12:28 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś said...

Yesterday I was in Berlin where I meet Don Rosa who was singin books and making drawings for the fans and I ask him for a Jose Carioca drawing.
Mr. Rosa mentioned as he was drawing that "The tree Caballeros ride agian" is among top favorite stories he made...

And I'm glad he said so becose I love this story very much as well. I like this story is just Donald having adventure with two other guys who are colorfull characters on their own and at the same time they like and respect Donald for who he is (and I'm not talking about 'Donadl get bash and Panchito and Jose go "Boy Donaldo is awsome" running gag which I like in this story BTW I thing it's get annoying a bit in the second "Three Caballeros" one) Very refreshing.

I also love the simplicity of it all. It's not some "Letter from home" emotional adventure or "Gurdiuans of the Lost libary" complicated one. It's just a simple adventure and it appears to be more relatable one since we don't have Scrooge who is super-expiriance guy or HD&L who are super smart. Agian : It's just three avrage inteligance guys on a crazy advanture and that's what I admire about it.

Plus yes - the "musical number" and the train chase scene are among top my favorite Don Rosa moments.

October 7, 2012 at 11:26 AM  

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