The Three Caballeros

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The Three Caballeros

Produced with the newly formed Office of Inter-American Affairs, Walt Disney Studio's animated film The Three Cabelleros (1945) presented stellar technical achievements, blending live action and animation in color on a scale never achieved before, and putting the film years ahead of its time. Rooted in the World War II era, the film was one of a series of features, beginning with Saludos Amigos (1943), attempting to celebrate diplomatic relations between the United States and Latin America by erasing the stereotyped images of Latin American culture and people common in Hollywood cinema: the untrustworthy Mexican womanizing Latin lover "guerillero"; his female counterpart, the lascivious Latin woman; and the stupid, lazy "poncho."

These films are also noted for being the first concerted effort to use animation as an instructional medium for popular audiences and as an effort to atone for what Eric Smoodin in Animating Culture describes as "the previous sins of Yankee cultural chauvinism." Yet what started out as a lesson in geography with more balanced depictions of place and people evolved into fantastical depictions of what Smoodin notes as "geographies animated by imagination and desire." The Three Cabelleros actually reveals more about the culture and ideologies of the United States than it does about the nations of Mexico and Brazil, the featured countries. Latin America is presented to the star of the film, Donald Duck, as a series of birthday presents. It constructs a tourist representation of Latin America, its peoples and culture, exotic with pleasures and fun offered for the delight of North America. This is well-illustrated by Donald Duck's reaction to Latin American women as constructed in the text. The film renders the people of Latin America, and particularly the women, as homogeneous. The diversity of racial types on the continent is not presented, rather the women are "recognizably" Latin American. Their portrayal is linked directly to the images of Latin American women popularized by Carmen Miranda, and they are linked to hyper-sexuality, both in the male's reaction to them and visually, as in the Carmen Molina dance sequence with phallic cacti. Though the effort to present a truer vision of Latin America is made obvious, The Three Cabelleros reveals an underlying set of messages of American imperialism and racism.

—Frances Gateward

Further Reading:

Maltin, Leonard. The Disney Films. New York, Crown Publishers, 1984.

——. Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons. New York, Plume, 1987.

Smoodin, Eric. Animating Culture. New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1993.