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Book Review: South of the Border with Disney

The Three Caballeros will always hold a place in my heart. As a child of the 1960s and early 70s, at a time when my class mates were experimenting with mind-altering drugs, I was getting my high off screenings of early 30s Fleischer cartoons and Disney’s South American psychedelics. Is there anything trippier than the last 45 minutes of The Three Caballeros or the Blame It On The Samba sequence in Melody Time? I’ve always wondered what the thinking was behind these films and now, finally, I have all the answers.

J.B. Kaufman’s new book, South of the Border with Disney should be a permanent addition to your Disney or animation history bookshelf. It goes way beyond the basic information of Disney’s South American tour, as outlined in Ted Thomas’ recent film Walt and El Grupo. Thomas’ film was concerned with the trip, Kaufman’s focus is on the films. J.B. covers El Grupo’s tour more throughly and, more importantly, follows through to discuss each film that resulted from that initial trip, a complete examination from development to end product – from Saludos Amigos (1943) to Destino (2003).

The book explains things I had always wondered about (for example, why Saludos Amigos was also released under the title Saludos; or why Panchito was never used on screen again), and reveals new facts I had no idea of (such as definitive information on all the unfinished shorts and aborted feature concepts; and that half of the live action footage used in Saludos Amigos was actually shot in Burbank, months after the trip to South America). Kaufman (who has emerged alongside Canemaker and Barrier as a leading Disney historian) discusses in depth and in detail, not only the well known features and shorts, but the more obscure nontheatrical health films and rarely seen documentaries Disney made primarily for the Latin America markets. You will not find this information anywhere else.

The appendix includes a complete filmography, a discography and information on related South America themed Disney comic books. It’s not an “art book” per se, but there are ample color illustrations from the Disney Archive to illustrate the text, and overall a high quality job in all printing aspects. For me, this is the animation book of the year. A great read, and I highly recommend it.

  • Ah neat. There seems to be a lot of new stuff coming out about these movies and trips. It’s a very interesting cultural experiment and an art style that came from Disney after Pink Elephants. It makes me wonder why so many other people who have tried to do these types of mindf**k things DON’T seem to get it like Disney in these movies. I’ll have to pick this book up to find out.

    I remember seeing the ending of Three Caballeros as a child and the amazement I have still holds true today and even more now (those giant Cactus would be something to see on a big screen). They do use Panchito and Joe nowadays but it’s in moderation (making a special appearance in It’s a Small World DisneyLand, Latin America Land).

    FYI there is also the Bumble Boogie segment from Melody Time that is equally as trippy as Blame it on the Samba if you don’t like the latin beats. If there was ever something that could compete with this style of animation in recent years would be The Grinch’s Halloween Paraphernalia Wagon.

  • I always preferred Saludos Amigos. Aquarelle Brazil is just amazing to me:) I can’t wait for the 2016 Olympics!

  • Paul N

    For those in the Bay Area, Kaufman will be signing copies of his book at the Walt Disney Family Museum next Saturday at 1 pm. The museum is also screening “The Three Caballeros” on Saturday and “Saludos Amigos” on Sunday.

  • Joel Strewth

    What can I say about this elixir?

  • onnett

    I remember fondly this two movies. The animation and music are marvelous and it was fun and colorful. On the other hand, I’m Mexican and I have read a lot of essays from historians and writers who have mentioned that the films we’re higlhy dismissed and critisied by authors and intelectuals of that time. A quote they always mention is the one of Salvador Novo, a famous writer and also Ministry of National Education in Mexico. He stated that the representation of Mexicans in The Three Caballeros was “ignorant and racist, a product of innocent tourism, who manage to represent the Mexicans in a stereotype of a rooster with sombrero, who sings like a mariachi and half of the time is shooting his guns” (a rough translation by me).

    I really don’t know what to say about those criticisms, it’s true that Panchito, in all of his charming attitude, it’s just an estereotype of the “Mexican macho”, but essentially that was the usual estereotype that prevailed in mexican movies and television of the fourties and fifties. From a cultural point of view, both Saludos and The Three Caballeros are what they are, an american product about Latin America, I don´t find them offensive and I don’t thing that was the purpose of Disney. From a historical point of view, they are underrated animations, I still like them (I have the DVD’s), and forgotten experiments of the studio. If Disney wanted that this movies became classics and be cherished by Latinamericans then I think he failed in that respect, because no one remembers them (at least here in Mexico), my parents, at the very least, had some vague memories of Panchito. In fact I agree that is odd that the character wasn’t used again, a shame really, because it was a really good character…

    I wanted to ask you Jerry, does the book mentions something of this?? I have been searching for quite some time books that adress this situations, or at least that mentions this kind of issues (the representations of hispanics in American animation, the effects of the Disney Tour in South America), but the only thing I have found is a little section about The Three caballeros in Animating Culture by Eric Smoodin. I hope you could help me a little to clarify this and sorry for making such a long comment xD

  • Didier Ghez

    Without a doubt the best Disney history book released this year. This is a “must-have” for any serious Disney history enthusiast. Do not run to your bookshop to buy it, fly there.

  • lampshade

    That’s great! I’ve heard Walt and El Grupo was a bit lacking anyways. I never liked Disney in general, but The Three Caballeros and its two title birds of the south always fascinated me.

  • Grant

    I love how Disney worked to remove cigarette’s from Pecos Bill, and yet let Jose Carioca and Donald Duck go on a full blown ACID trip for 10 minutes! Brilliant.

  • Jim Engel

    The book sounds great—I love all that stuff. The animation of the 3 CABALLEROS title song is one of my all-time favorite Disney moments, and Jose Carioca has been a favorite character of mine since I got him as a Disneykin when i was in kindergarten…BLAME IT ON THE SAMBA is another gorgeous film –in my pre-home video, 16MM collecting days it was one of the prizes of my film collection.

  • Jason

    Panchito is so much better than that Woody Woodpecker ripoff he was replaced with. I was glad to see him at the Mexican exhibit at EPCOT last year; clips from Three Caballeros have been integrated with great effect into that attraction.

    The fuss over Panchito reminds me of the similar nonsensical outrage over the Frito Bandito. I just finished reading Mel Blanc’s autobiography “That’s Not All, Folks!” and he mentions that fracas and how much it hurt him. He had no intention of offending anyone and couldn’t understand how the Bandito would be offensive. He does make some pointed comments about the climate of the time, one that outdid even the moronic political correctness we deal with today. What a lot of fuss and bother over a truly amusing cartoon character! Anyway, I hope we see more of Panchito in the future; if Oswald can come back, why can’t he?

  • Alberto

    I’m definitely looking forward to this book, the “Three Caballero’s” was a big part of my childhood (especially being hispanic). I sure hope there’s some new and good information regarding the lost 4th caballero, A Cuban bird that lived on a tobacco plantation where the tobacco leaves rolled themselves up into ready to smoke cigars, this island paradise of course was very popular with the cigar aficionado Jose Carioca.

  • Thad

    It’s amazing how much you don’t know about your favorite films until someone like J.B. Kaufman puts out a book on them. Who’d have guessed that that scene with Donald chasing girls at Acapulco Beach was just just the studio parking lot filled with sand? A great book written by a great guy.

  • George

    I was fortunate enough to sit next to J.B. during a lunch a few weeks ago. Hearing him talk about researching this book, he sounded so enthusiastic, almost ready to jump out of his skin with excitement. I was pretty sure before, but I was certain right then that this book would be spectacular, anybody who purchases it will not be disappointed.

  • Thad: Seconded. Without getting down on the majority Disney books, it can’t be denied that many large-format overviews of the studio are just that; overviews, scratching the surface of animation and character developments without the space to go into depth. Deeper, more focused books like Kaufman’s are vital if we are to gain a full understanding of the studio during its best period; as in WALT IN WONDERLAND, he shines a brilliant light on topics relatively glossed over before.

  • Bryan

    You mention the Disney/Dali collaboration “Destino”; I saw this shown before an auction on a Celebrity cruise ship in 2007, has it ever been screened theatrically? I know it was slated for release in a 2008 (I think) Disney Treasures DVD, but scratched. Anyone got more info?

  • As far as I’m concerned, El Pato Donald was the bestest ambassador the US has ever sent to Latin America ;)

    And yeah, most of us were not offended by Pancho Pistolas, and it would be neat to see him again in a feature film —perhaps to celebrate the Olimpic games in Rio?

  • Great review! I’ll have to give it a read one of these days!

  • Damon

    I’m going to have to pick up this book. I love Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros. And look at the bottom corner of that video. Toon Disney showing real Disney cartoons not something Marvel retreads. Though I must admit I really like Spectacular Spider-Man.