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.

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