Saludos Amigos is the sixth full-length animated feature film in the Disney animated features canon, released in 1942. It is the first of the six Disney "Package films" made during the 1940s, when many members of the production staff were drafted into World War II. Due to this decrease in resources, the company could not afford to make feature-length stories during this time and instead produced films composed of multiple shorter segments. Set in Latin America, it is made up of four different segments; Donald Duck stars in two of them and Goofy stars in one. It also features the first appearance of José Carioca. At a run-time of 42 minutes, Saludos Amigos had beat Dumbo as Disney's shortest-running animated feature.
The film itself was given federal loan guarantees, because the Disney studio had over-expanded just before European markets were closed to them by the war, and because Disney was struggling with labor unrest at the time (including a strike that was underway at the time the goodwill journey began).
Saludos Amigos was popular enough that Walt Disney decided to make a sequel, The Three Caballeros, to be produced two years later. The film was made partially because several Latin American governments had close ties with Nazi Germany, and the US government wanted to counteract those ties. Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters were popular in Latin America, and Walt Disney acted as ambassador.
A group of Disney animators make a goodwill trip to South America (this is documented in live-action). An animated segment details which places they visit.
- Lake Titicaca: Donald Duck visits the famous real-life lake of Lake Titicaca, located at the border of Peru and Bolivia. He looks around, learns about the lake's traditions and makes a failed attempt at sailing a boat before setting off on a journey through the mountains atop a llama. He panicks when the llama is busy walking across a wooden suspended bridge, eventually resulting in his fall. He lands in a pottery shop, shattering some pots and taking others with him.
- Pedro: A small anthropomorphic child-airplane, Pedro, lives in Chile with his mother and father, large airplanes who deliver mail. When both his parents are incapacitated due to technical defects, Pedro is forced to embark on his first journey in their place, picking up post from the city of Mendoza. His flight is perilous and dangerous and he is nearly killed in a storm on his way back, but manages to make it to Chile unscathed in the end.
- El Gaucho Goofy: Goofy, re-imagined here as a Texan cowboy, is put to work as a gaucho in Argentina. He works together with a trickster horse as the narrator explains the life of the gaucho. Life as a gaucho for Goofy is strange, harsh and tiresome - not because of the living conditions, but mainly due to the antics of his horse. He is flown back to Texas in the end, to his gratitude.
- Aquarela de Brasil: Disney animators begin drawing a beautifully rendered Brazilian jungle, where Donald Duck emerges from a flower at some point. While standing around, Donald sees the animator's pen drawing another figure: José Carioca. Joe takes Donald out of the jungle and into the city of Rio de Janeiro, where Donald accidentally drinks an incredibly spicy drink (thinking it was soda pop) before spending the night going out and dancing to the samba in Rio with Joe.
The film's original score was composed by Edward H. Plumb, Paul J. Smith, and Charles Wolcott. The title song, "Saludos Amigos", was written for the film by Charles Wolcott and Ned Washington. The film also featured the song "Aquarela do Brasil", written by the popular Brazilian songwriter Ary Barroso and performed by Aloysio De Oliveira and an instrumental version of "Tico-Tico no Fubá", written by Zequinha de Abreu. "Aquarela do Brasil" was written and first performed in 1939, but did not achieve much initial success. However after appearing in this film it became an international hit, becoming the first Brazilian song to be played over a million times on American radio.
The film's soundtrack was first released by Decca Records in 1944 as a collection of three 78rpm singles.
- Side 1: "Saludos Amigos" b/w Side 2: "Inca Suite"
- Side 3: "Brazil ("Aquarela do Brazil")" b/w Side 4: "Argentine Country Dances"
- Side 5: "Tico-Tico" b/w Side 6: "Pedro from Chile"
The film was nominated for three Oscars: Best Musical Score, Best Original Song for the theme song "Saludos Amigos", and Best Sound Recording.
The film included live-action documentary sequences featuring footage of modern Latin American cities with skyscrapers and fashionably dressed residents. This surprised many contemporary US viewers, who associated such images only with US and European cities, and contributed to a changing impression of Latin America. Film historian Alfred Charles Richard Jr. has commented that Saludos Amigos "did more to cement a community of interest between peoples of the Americas in a few months than the State Department had in fifty years".
The film also inspired Chilean cartoonist René Ríos Boettiger to create Condorito, one of Latin America's most ubiquitous cartoon characters. Ríos perceived that the character Pedro, a small, incapable airplane, was a slight to Chileans and created a comic that could supposedly rival Disney's comic characters.
Other critics, however, were less kind to the film. James Agee of The Nation, for one, scorned Saludos Amigos as depressing and self-interested, and that "Disney's famous cuteness, however richly it may mirror national infantilism, is hard on my stomach." Along the same lines, John T. MacManus of the newspaper PM accused Saludos Amigos of a "mingled pride and sadness over the growing up of a beloved something we all foolishly hoped could stay young forever."
Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 80% of the critics gave the film a positive review based on 10 reviews.
The scene of Goofy smoking in "El Gaucho Goofy" is edited out when released onto home video in 2000 (Gold Classic Collection) and 2008 (as part of a double bill with The Three Caballeros). To date, the only home video release to present this film uncensored is as a bonus feature of the Walt & El Grupo DVD.
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Disney Parks: Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros