The Three Caballeros is probably the first film I loved, and it formed many of my cinephile sensitivities.
I don’t remember exactly when I became fascinated with films. When I was a kid, I must have been quite spoiled, because I had quite a lot of VHS tapes of Walt Disney films. I don’t remember them being bought – I just remember being there. And I remember I watched at least one of them every day. My favourite one, however, had been taped off the television and it was The Three Caballeros from 1944.
The film really has no plot to speak of. Donald Duck gets a few presents, all of which will lead him to an exploration to Latin American countries, especially Mexico and Brazil, which is where the two friends he makes, Panchito and José Carioca, are from.
The Three Caballeros mixes live action with animation in a way that seems ahead of its time. The film has lots of stereotypes, girls in provocative swimsuits, and so on, that have made it almost awkward by today’s standards. Yet, to me, the film was and still is magic, and ever since then, I have wanted to go to Latin America, especially Brazil, as a result.
When I grew up, I realized that reviews of the film were widely unfavourable. At best, people found it entertaining. However, the film has no story and doesn’t quite make an emotional connection with the viewer. It’s almost structured like a compilation of sketch comedies with recurring characters, or a variety show of sorts, with lots of great music and funny skits. Nonetheless, it doesn’t quite make the list of beloved films from many people’s childhood and is almost forgotten.
Looking back, what I liked about it was its sheer unpredictability. The backdrops were dreamy and almost psychedelic. There’s a sequence in which Dora Luz sings “You’ll Always Belong To My Heart” as a star among the stars that I found incredibly exciting and soothing. Or that magical train-ride, when Donald and José travel to Baia – but it’s really a train made of paper and the rails, like their destination, have emerged from the pages of a book.
Many of the images and sequences of the film, as well as the songs and the beats from it, including that wonderful rendition of “Os Quindins de Yaya,” which is one of my favourite songs to this day, are etched in my memory forever. The strange structure of the film, in a way, was equally important in my formation as a cinephile. It taught me from early on that a film did not need to be tied to a story to be good, and that every image had the opportunity to capture your mind and let it wander.
The constant movement of The Three Caballeros was equally important in developing a desire to travel the geographical world and explore. And it all returns to a question posed by José to Donald, and his eventual answer, which is a wonderful evocative passage that appealed to me, as a child, and all my senses.
José Carioca: But tell me, Donald, have you ever been to Baia?
Donald Duck: No, I haven’t.
José Carioca: No? Oh, I am so sorry for you. Ah, Baia. It is like a song in my heart. A song with love and beautiful memories. Que saudades que eu tenho. Ah, Baia. I close my eyes, and I can see it now. I can see the beautiful twilight in the sky. I can feel the breeze from the bay. And I can hear the music, the music of Baia.