The Three Cabelleros [50 Films Older Than Me #15]

Over six months ago, it was my birthday! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of the fifty years before I was born, and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #15. So, that’s 15 movies out of 50 in just over 50% of the year, which just goes to show how far behind I am with all this.

Spoilers ahead.  

The Three Caballeros

Supervising Director – Norman Ferguson. Sequence Directors: Clyde Geronimi, Jack Kinney, Bill Roberts, Harold Young.

Release Year:  1944, in Mexico anyway (26 years before I was born)

What it is about:  Donald Duck receives some presents. He watches one of them–a film–which shows him stories of different characters in and around South America. He then enters a pop-up book where he is taken on a tour of Brazil guided by his old friend José Carioca. Donald and José together are then taken on a journey through Mexico by a new friend, Panchito. Together, the three birds call themselves “the Three Cabelleros” (or technically, “Gentlemen”).

Starring the voices of Clarence Nash as Donald Duck, José do Patrocínio Oliveira as José, and Joaquin Garay as Panchito.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I was aware of this movie only as one of the animated Disney movies I had not seen, and one of the reasons why few people can say they seen them all. I knew it was a musical revue film of some sort, a bit like Fantasia I suppose, but with a Latin American theme.

Reality: The Three Cabelleros was a lot of work. I’m not the biggest Disney fan at the best of times, and here is a film which is very much grounded in film traditions that are pretty out of place today.

Story is minimal, with the whole movie being a loose collection of vaguely related songs and vignettes all bound together by the framing device of Donald Duck getting a bunch of presents from his friends in Mexico and South America. Thus the appeal of the movie lies entirely in two things–the strength of those segments, and how much one likes Donald Duck.

The sequences are pretty impressive to look at. There is a fine detail to the animation that testifies to a craftmanship of the Disney team. The three leads are all given loads of physical personality. And I found myself even moderately engaged by the stories of the earlier sequences, when Donald is watching the film, in the same way I might have had my attention drawn by cartoons on a lazy afternoon in my younger days.

But this quickly gives way to scenes of Donald actually visiting Brazil and Mexico, which is less engaging and more dated. The film transitions to an awkward looking animated / live action hybrid, with culturally flavored musical performances by talented singers and musicians who do not look completely comfortable on the set being reacted to by the cartoon Donald and his friends. The songs are fine for what they are, but are just not that interesting to me.

Although the imagery on this gets more imaginative as it goes along. Indeed, toward the end, things begin to feel a bit more like a drug-induced fever dreams then they do an ordinary Disney cartoon.

But who knows, maybe they’ve always been like this and I just haven’t been paying attention.


The movie begins with one of those disclaimer that Disney puts before some of their older projects, talking about outdated cultural depictions that were wrong then and are wrong now. What the movie should have been warning us about is how outdated Donald Duck’s reaction to women are. Seriously, the guy is the worst. He spends all his time in the live action arena yelling “Oh boy!” at the sight of every woman he comes across, and then chasing them with a reckless abandon that is comical but legitimately cringe-worthy. When so much of the film is built on an enjoyment of Donald’s antics, it makes it a bit harder for me to enjoy.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? It’s not badly done, exactly, but it’s just not he kind of thing I really want to spend my time watching. Time to move on.

See here for the Master List.

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