Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Saludos Amigos: Gold Classic Collection (1943)
Studio Line: Disney - Walt Disney goes South American in his gayest musical Technicolor feature.

Direct from the vault, Disney's 6th full-length animated film, Saludos Amigos, is available for the first time ever! Loosely translated as "Greetings, Friends", it features the Academy Award-nominated song of the same title and showcases the brilliance of Disney's legendary animators.

A whimical blend of live action and animation, Saludos Amigos is a colorful kaleidoscope of art, adventure and music set to a toe-tapping samba beat. Your south-of-the-border traveling companions are none other than famous funny friends, Donald Duck and Goofy. They keep things lively as Donald encounters a stubborn Ilama and "El Gaucho" Goofy tries on the cowboy way of life…South American-style.

From high Andes peaks to Argentina's pampas to the sights and sounds of Rio de Janeiro, Saludos Amigos is a hilarious visual feast that will entertain and delight the whole family.

Director: Norman Ferguson and Wilfred Jackson
Cast: Pinto Colvig, Walt Disney, Frank Graham, Clarence Nash, Jose Olivera, Fred Shields
Academy Awards: Nominated for Best Scoring of a Musical Picture; Best Song-"Saludos Amigos"; Best Recording, 1944.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono, Spanish Digital Mono; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single side - single layer; 9 chapters; rated NR; 75 min.; $29.99, street date 5/2/00.
Supplements: "South of the Border with Disney" Featurette, Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: C+/C/C+

When one examines the history of Disney's feature animation, one can see that the studio started out strong and knocked out one classic after another... until 1943. From 1937's Snow White through 1942's Bambi, each and every one of their five animated films still maintains a strong reputation. (Note to sticklers: I'm ignoring The Reluctant Dragon - sue me!)

The same cannot be said for subsequent efforts. In fact, Disney wouldn't release an animated movie that continues to enjoy a broad public profile until 1950 when the studio came back with Cinderella.

Although it may look that way, Disney weren't idle during the eight year malaise. In fact, the studio released seven essentially animated pictures from 1943 through 1949, plus two other films - Song of the South and So Dear to My Heart - that included varying amounts of animated content combined with live action narrative but essentially fell into the latter category. However, none of these had that zip that made the prior - and subsequent - offerings so compelling, so the memory of these films is left to Disney-philes like myself.

For two of Disney's Forties efforts, Walt and company looked to our neighbors to the south for inspirations; both 1943's Saludos Amigos and 1945's Three Caballeros offer looks at various aspects of the cultures of Central and South America. Disney's reasons for doing this were less than altruistic. For one, the releases of pretty much all the animated films after Snow White coincided with some well-known unpleasantries in Europe; the advent of World War II effectively shut down those lucrative markets and put a serious monetary pinch on the studios.

That wasn't a good thing, especially since these lavishly-animated films were rather expensive. Of course, roughly 60 years later, they all look like good investments, since they've returned their costs many times over, but at the time, all post Snow White films did relatively poorly and Disney had to tighten their financial belts.

As such, both SA and TC served two purposes. First, they were much cheaper to make. The animation went back to a more basic style that served the character-oriented shorts made by the studio; in fact, two Disney stars - Donald Duck and Goofy- would feature prominently in these films. Walt had famously declared that after the lavish efforts of their initial features, the studio would now only offer "meat and potatoes" animation, and these pictures were two of the first attempts at that kind of less ornate style.

Secondly, Central and South America were relatively untapped territories at the time, so Walt figured he should do whatever he could to interest these folks in his product, so why not send them a couple of big old valentines? Actually, Disney films were popular in these areas, but Walt simply wanted to push them as hard as he could, and I can't blame him; the studio really was in poor financial shape at the time.

Happily for them, these films ended up more profitable than most of the prior efforts. That's probably due as much to the lowered costs as anything else, but the unfortunate lesson taken from them was to continue to stick with these sorts of projects for the foreseeable future. That's why Disney would not produce a film with a coherent plot until Cinderella in 1950; from SA through 1949's The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, each and every feature was a compilation of shorts to some degree (though some of the shorts were actually relatively long, as was the case with the two halves of Ichabod and a similarly-bifurcated program with 1947's Fun and Fancy Free).

I suppose it's ironic that projects like SA and TC were more profitable than the classics that preceded them, since so few remember the "meat and potatoes" animation and so many love the more complicated creations, but I won't slam Disney for taking the path they did. Without the belt-tightening seen in these films, the studio may not have existed long enough to create all the wonderful movies that followed in the Fifties, and without those hits, we wouldn't still see new animated pictures today. For those reasons, we have to at least be thankful that SA and TC found an audience in their day.

But is there still one for these movies in our day? Yeah, I guess, though there's a good reason these films aren't viewed in the same light as their immediate predecessors and later followers. They're generally interesting and entertaining pieces of work, but the title "Disney Classics" seems too much praise for them.

Of the two, I definitely prefer SA. It's so short that it's hard to qualify it as a feature - 42 minutes is awfully brief, though SA was supplemented with other attractions during its theatrical run - but this length seems just about right for this sort of offering; TC runs for about a half an hour longer, and it gets quite tedious.

SA really is little more than a conglomeration of short cartoons linked together by some live action footage that serves as a kind of travelogue. Mainly the latter features shots of the Disney animators as they tour South America, but we also see lots of the native folks doing their native folky stuff. These segments are mildly interesting - mostly it's fun to see the Disney people - but are nothing terribly entertaining, though the dated nature of the material makes it more compelling; since this project is nearly 60 years old, it's kind of fun to get a look at different cultures during that time period.

While the live action shots may be worth a look once or twice, it's the shorts that will keep you coming back to SA. The film contains four in all, and though some are better than others, they're all good.

Best of the bunch are the two that feature Disney stars: "Lake Titicaca" and "El Gaucho Goofy". The former shows Donald Duck as he interacts with the culture of the titular area in Peru and is very well done and funny; it uses a standard travelogue format but integrates the Duck's usual short-temper for some solid humor. I'd say this is my favorite of the four.

Also excellent is "EGG", though not quite as good as Donald's piece. This short seems to be part of the "how to..." series of Goofy cartoons - though not as explicitly "demonstrative" in nature - and it's a very entertaining look at the Goof's failed attempts to be a gaucho. I'm not much of a fan of Goofy and usually find his cartoons to be decent at best, but this one worked very nicely.

My only complaint in regard to "EGG" is that it's been edited. At the start of this DVD, you'll notice a statement that indicates the film has been "edited for content". What that means is that a shot of Goofy puffing on a cigarette has been altered. Whereas in the original - and still visible on the deluxe laserdisc boxed set that packaged TC and SA, which made the latter available for the first time on home video - Goofy briefly smokes, none of that is visible here. Instead, the cigarette has either been digitally removed from the image or the scene edited so that the offending portions are excised; this requires some repetition of animation as well as use of shots from other scenes.

While I heartily endorse the notion that smoking is foul and bad for you and I understand that after the whole "Joe Camel" ruckus that companies are reluctant to appear to endorse smoking for youngsters, this is ridiculous. SA is not a promotional piece aimed at luring youngsters to the wicked ways of tobacco; it's a cartoon from nearly 60 years ago, when attitudes regarding smoking were very different. This alteration - along with the others being made by Disney on features such as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Melody Time (which also changes a scene of a character smoking) and Make Mine Music (which omits an entire cartoon) - is an unnecessary and insulting nod to "political correctness"; the absurdity of the decision seems even more clear when one considers the audience that will most likely pusue this feature, about which I'll comment more later.

For now, that's the end of my soapboxing - back to the cartoons. Two more remain on SA. The better of those two is the cute and charming "Pedro", a variation on "The Little Train That Could". It features a family of mail planes, and when Daddy takes ill, little Pedro tries to fulfill his legacy and deliver the mail. It's not as funny as the Goofy and Donald features, but it's still entertaining and delightful nonetheless.

The Duck returns in the final short, "Aquarela Do Brasil". This clip is notable for two reasons. First, it introduces a new personality, the Brazilian parrot Jose (or Joe) Carioca. Jose didn't stick around for too long, but he made a number of appearances in the Forties and makes for a notable minor character.

Second, "ADB" strongly foreshadows what we'll see in Three Caballeros. Like most of that film, "ADB" is much more conceptual and impressionistic; there's no true plot but it offers an abstract visual number accompanied by the short's title song. It can be quite bizarre at times, and it has some pleasures, though I'm not terribly enamored of the format.

Nonetheless, Saludos Amigos offers some fairly charming pieces. It's rather short, but part of its effectiveness comes from the brevity; the format doesn't last long enough to wear out its welcome. SA isn't a classic, but it's an entertaining program.

The DVD:

Saludos Amigos appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. For its age, the film looks good, but it still seems flawed.

The movie is composed of two different elements: the standard animated scenes and a number of 16 mm live action sequences. The live action parts uniformly look a good deal worse than the cartoons. The main issue for the live scenes is sharpness; it seems very soft and fuzzy for all of these shots. Colors are somewhat faded but not bad, and the print suffers from few faults, though it looked pretty grainy. Black levels are surprisingly deep, though, and shadow detail seems adequate.

The animated portions definitely look better but they have some issues as well. Sharpness seems very good for the cartoons; all of those clips were crisp and well-defined with no signs of softness. I noticed no resulting moiré effects or jagged edges either. The print itself continues to look pretty clean and fresh for such an old movie; I saw no speckles, scratches, hairs or other flaws except for a continuing moderate level of grain. I did, however, witness a vaguely flickering quality to the image at times; this seemed most prominent during the "Aquileros" cartoon, but was also present at other times as well.

Colors are also improved for the animated sequences. They appear pretty bright and bold with no evidence of bleeding or noise. Black levels seem deep and dark, and shadow detail continues to look nicely opaque but not overly solid. SA has some problems but I generally thought it provided a decent image.

The same can be said for the monaural audio. Quality seems reasonably good though not anything special, even for the era. Dialogue appears pretty clear and relatively natural, though I noticed a slight amount of distortion at times. Music lacked dynamic range but seemed smooth and clean. Effects were also a bit thin but appeared reasonably realistic and crisp. A fairly light but still consistently intrusive layer of background noise accompanies the track. It seems like a pretty typical effort for the early 1940s.

SA doesn't offer many different supplements, but it does contain one major extra: "South of the Border With Disney", a 33 minute program. While I'm very happy to have this piece as a historical document, I can't say that I found it terribly interesting. For all intents and purposes, it's a glorified travelogue that does nothing more than introduce audiences to the lands depicted in SA, something the movie itself does well enough on its own. We do get a few nice shots of artists but these occur far too infrequently to entertain animation fans like myself; I was interested to note that famed conceptual artist Mary Blair was something of a babe, but other than that, I gleaned no useful information about the folks behind the scenes. It's worth a look as a curiosity but it probably won't be something you'll want to watch again.

Other than that program, all we get from SA is an original theatrical trailer. I was mildly surprised to see that both this DVD and that for TC don't emulate prior brethren like The Fox and the Hound and The Aristocats by including features such as a "Read-Along" storybook and a trivia game. The absence of the former actually makes sense, since neither SA nor TC feature even a vague plot, but that doesn't explain why they couldn't have tossed in trivia games. Actually, I suspect these don't appear because Disney know that the appeal of this product is going to largely be for adult animation fans such as myself; unlike the prior titles I mentioned, this one probably won't end up in the hands of too many kiddies. As such, the packaging differs appropriately.

That factor makes the alteration of Goofy's smoking scene in SA even more bizarre. The only even theoretically defensible reason for that change was the feeling that the scenes of Goofy puffing on a butt might influence children to think that smoking is okay. However, while it's certain that this DVD will be seen by more children than was the unaltered LD - which even more clearly was aimed at an adult "collectors" audience - if Disney point the DVD toward adults and know that kids will likely be a minority audience for the film, why make the change? It's a mystery, but I know that I disapprove of these examples of historical "clean-ups"; for better or for worse, we should see the material as originally depicted.

SA originally appeared alongside TC on a laserdisc boxed set. Most of the supplemental materials in it related to TC, but a few that dealt with SA fail to appear on this DVD. The LD included some publicity materials that related to it plus a "reconstruction" of an abandoned animation concept, but that was about it in regard to SA. (The "South of the Border With Disney" program also appeared on the boxed set.)

Saludos Amigos continues the questionable trend we now find on some Disney DVDs: a slew of advertisements that appear prior to the main menu. The DVD starts with the usual copyright warning, and then it launches immediately into an announcer with his usual "Coming soon to own on video and DVD..." line. Here we find ads for the Disney Gold Collection as a whole plus promos for The Little Mermaid II and The Tigger Movie. I don't particularly mind these ads; they offer some potentially interesting information and my Panasonic players allow me to quickly and easily skip them through the "chapter skip" button.

However, many others detest these trailers; some feel that way just due to the principle of the thing, whereas others have had a trouble bypassing the commercials as easily as I could do so. It appears some DVD players have more difficulty with them than others, though I haven't heard of any concrete trends that indicate any particular models that all refuse to advance. Whether these ads are a serious negative or just a mild nuisance is up to you, but be warned that they're there.

A more positive feature appears on these and other Disney "Gold" DVDs. According to Disney, they're supporting the DVD with a 30-day money-back guarantee; if you don't like the DVD for any reason, they'll refund your cost. I have no idea how easy or difficult it'll be to do so, but I thought this made for a nice gesture.

By no stretch of the imagination is Saludos Amigos a classic piece of Disney animation, but it provides modest entertainment. The DVD itself features fairly mediocre picture, sound and extras. Die-hard fans of Disney will be miffed about the mild alterations made to one of the cartoons but will likely enjoy this cute and fun piece nonetheless.

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