At the end of the 1930s, the Disney Studios fantastic successes with Mickey Mouse and the classic animated Movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” began to wane. War clouds were gathering over Europe and the kind of comic relief Mickey and the Silly Symphonies gave the depression-weary country was lost over the impeding fear of a global war. After the war started in September, 1939, the mood was even sourer. In addition, the release of Pinocchio on February 2, 1940 hoped to be as successful as Snow White, was not. The long anticipated “Fantasia” released on November, 13, 1940 was also not an initial success. The Disney Studios also over-expanded in European markets, now closed due to the war.
But the biggest calamity to hit the Studios was the 1941 animators strike. The strike was during the production of the next film, “Dumbo”. At the time, the United States began the “Good Neighbor Policy” aimed at keeping Latin American countries and Mexico friendly towards the U.S. fearing encroachment by the growing Axis Powers. Disney went on a goodwill tour of South America with the intent of making a film for the United States. The government knew Mickey and other Disney characters were very popular there and thought Walt would make a perfect Ambassador.
Will little money coming in, Walt needed the government business. After Pearl Harbor, most of his staff was drafted and the Government took over his Studios for the war effort. The first film made for the tour (six total films were produced) was “Saludos Amigos”, Spanish for Hello Friends. Here the first of the “3 Caballeros” was introduced. “Jose Ze Carioca”, a suave, Brazilian Parrot (Carioca, a term referring to a person born there). Jose is a friend of Donald Duck, our third “Caballero. It is set in Latin America and is comprised of four different segments. Donald stars in two of them and Goofy another. It was released in Rio de Janeiro on August 24, 1942 and the States on February 6, 1943. It received mixed reviews and was only released once, in 1949.
In 1944 Disney released the film, “The Three Caballeros” which is an adventure through parts of Latin America, starring Donald Duck, and Jose Carioca, who represents Brazil and a new friend from Mexico, Panchito Pistoles, a gun-toting rooster. This film combined live action and animation. It also starred several Latin American stars at the time, singer Aurora Miranda, Dora Luz and dancer Carmen Molina.
The plot begins with Donald opening presents from his friends: A film projector, a book from Jose Carioca on Bahia in Brazil and a piñata by Panchito. The film is divided into seven segments; all involve the Three Caballeros and each showcase different customs and countries from Latin America. Donald also falls in love with some of the beautiful Latin American women. All of these segments revolve around Donald opening his presents.
The film premiered in Mexico City on December 21, 1944 and the United States on February 3, 1945. It received two Academy Award nominations, one for Best sound and Original Music score. The Three Caballeros were brought together for an attraction ride in the Mexico Pavilion in April of 2007, named the “Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros”.