José is based on a parrot spotted by Walt Disney during his Brazilian trip. He was created during World War II events via the "Good Neighbor Policy" to enforce Brazil's cooperation. He represents every aspect of the typical Brazilian. He is smart, friendly and always in a good mood. His clothes represent the Brazilian "Malandros" ("Ladies Men" in Portuguese) and his happiness resembles that of Rio de Janeiro.
From the end of the Second World War until 1949, American films were not allowed to be exported to Occupied Europe, which included Disney cartoons. To find a new market to make up for this, Walt Disney focused on the South American market and used José Carioca to help promote this.
José is practically Donald's opposite, in that he is suave, cool and good under pressure. He is portrayed as a ladies' man, enjoys parties, and carries around an umbrella wherever he goes, using it like a cane; he can also use it as a musical instrument, such as a flute, guitar or trombone. He is extremely benevolent and debonair, tends to make friends fairly easily, and rarely suffers the same comical misfortunes as his classic Disney co-stars (at least in animation).
José is unique in that he is one of the few Disney characters to actually admire Donald Duck and his work, as José himself revealed in Saludos Amigos. Being a fan, he was more than happy to introduce Donald to Rio, and a friendly bond grew rather quickly afterward. Since, both José and Donald express great joy whenever they have the chance to reunite. José is also the best friend of Panchito Pistoles who, despite being the most rambunctious and unpredictable of the three, shares José's charisma and prosperity.
In the film Saludos Amigos, José appears in the final segment, Aquarela do Brasil (translated as Watercolors of Brazil). José is created by a living paint brush. Donald Duck sees the painting and meets José. José introduces himself and seems to be a big fan of Donald Duck and his cartoons. José gives Donald a tour of Brazil and offers cachaça at a restaurant. He also teaches Donald how to dance the Samba, a dance native to Brazil. Later, Donald hiccups and gives a great beat for José to start a song. José and Donald party at the club as the segment ends.
José reappears in this sequel film to Saludos Amigos. In the second segment of the film, José presents Donald with a book about Bahia, one of Brazil's states, as a birthday present. José shrinks Donald and himself and the two enter the book. Jose and Donald met up with locals and dance the samba with them. After leaving the book, Donald realizes that he is too small to open his third present. Jose uses "black magic" to transform them both to normal size.
Donald opens his third present, and he and José met Panchito Pistoles, a rooster from Mexico. The three take the name of The Three Caballeros. Panchito takes both José and Donald on a tour of Mexico, telling them the tradition regarding the piñata. José then watches as Donald attempts to break open the piñata. At the end, José lights up some fireworks with his cigar.
In Melody Time, José appears in the sixth segment, Blame it on the Samba. José is seen with Donald, as the two are moping in a cafe. The Aracuan Bird sees them both, and introduces them to the Samba, which manages to cheer up both José and Donald.
José makes a notable appearance in the animated series Mickey Mouse Works in the short "Mickey Tries to Cook". Minnie tires of the mundane ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches that Mickey continuously makes on their dates. Later, Mickey mistakenly believes that José and Minnie have begun dating after seeing the two together in a super market. Mickey tries to become more sophisticated with his cooking, but his efforts backfire. Minnie then sets things straight; she had asked José to set up a dinner date for her and Mickey that featured Brazilian food. Ironically, the food turns out to be ham, cheese and tomato sandwiches, though José calls the food by its Brazilian translation.
José made several appearances in House of Mouse, mostly in crowd scenes with Panchito.
In the episode "The Three Caballeros", he is asked to perform at the club as part of the Three Caballeros. However, problems arise when Donald realizes that no one remembers that he is part of the group. To this end, Donald takes various measures meant to ensure that he isn't forgotten. Finally, Mickey calls José and Panchito to solve the problem. The duo solve the problem by humiliating Donald and making him popular on stage.
José appeared in "O Futebol Clássico" as the commentator of the World Cup games.
José appeared in the episode "Mickey's Perfecto Day", where Donald and the others visited Madrid to watch the Three Caballeros perform. Both José and Panchito are formally introduced to Daisy and are excited to be reunited, but Donald takes bite of spicy food and loses his voice. José and Panchito enlist Daisy as Donald's replacement, but the trio is reunited after Donald regains his voice from a temper tantrum. They sing at Goofy and El Horace's dance-off, and are accompanied by Daisy nevertheless, creating a quartet.
Two José look-alikes can be seen on the jury in Alice in Wonderland, but both seem older and dress differently than how José usually dresses as well as both of them missing José's bright red and blue tail feathers.
José makes a brief, non-speaking cameo alongside Donald in the It's a Small World: The Animated Series episode "Up and Down".
José has his own comic book strips in Brazil and South America, similarly to how Panchito has his comic book stories in México and Spanish countries. In some of the comics, he's also a hustler (confidence artist) and a poor parrot. Some of his morals seem to be questioned (gleefully ready to kill a pigeon, to cook and eat, without a second thought); however, he still seems to care about his friends.
In the oldest José Carioca comics, he appeared to live in Duckburg. He often met characters like Donald Duck, Scrooge McDuck, Gladstone Gander, etc. Later, it was established that José Carioca lives in Xurupita Village, a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro.
José also appears alongside Panchito and Donald in World of Color: Season of Light, in which the trio perform "Feliz Navidad".
José appears in the Epcot boat ride, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros, along with Donald and Panchito. In the ride, The Three Caballeros plan to perform a concert in Mexico City, but Donald goes missing, prompting José and Panchito to go on a search for their missing friend.
- José is one of the few characters in the Disney universe to have been a fan of Donald Duck and showed fondness of him in first meeting him.
- José's eyes are red, but the eye color varies in Disney franchise. In comics and occasionally merchandise, his eyes are brown/green. In other comics, his eyes are blue (especially in "Ze Carioca" comics) and even orange.