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The Three Caballeros (Norman Ferguson, 1945)


    One of the most underrated of Disney classics, The Three Caballeros probably owes its current less than stellar critical status due to its bucking of many of the clichés that defined the studio’s animated films of its era. Caballeros initially hints at being an anthology collection of shorts similar to Melody Time or Make Mine Music, but after two short, enjoyable segments, it abandons its diversions and shifts its focus to the wraparound story, in which Donald Duck receives a birthday present on Friday the 13th and begins a hallucinatory tour of Latin and South America. The film flirts at first with being a fanciful travelogue of the region by incorporating some suspect live-action location shooting and a few cursory looks at the customs of the countries in question, but it generally abandons that idea and most pretenses of plot to present a stylized version of the land below the border that seems to exist mostly to offer opportunities for hedonistic revelry and sexual abandon. Of course that release is presented in Disneyfied terms, but once the film begins its headlong launch into that abstract fantasia of color and sound, it’s difficult to deny the sexual nature of its characters’ pelvic thrusts and rampant phallic imagery. Clearly, this is Disney’s horniest animated feature.


    It’s no mistake that all of the female characters in the film are portrayed by live actresses, but even though they are flesh and blood, they’re less emotionally developed than the cartoons that chase after them. They exist only as erotic spectacle, and even though there’s naturally no nudity, there is plenty of focus on the female form.  In this libidinous context, Donald Duck’s slowly escalating frustrations can only be viewed as sexual ones. Despite frequently popping his top in nearly every other Disney cartoon he appears in, here he really only flips out once, after being forcibly removed from a beach populated entirely by scantily clad, eager to please women. For the remainder of Caballeros’ running time, he’s wide-eyed and drunk on the showcase before him, often getting so caught up in the moment that flashes of gender confusion crop up. Because the opening two segments feature Donald as he watches short stories that unfold on film, he becomes a surrogate for the viewer by the time his odyssey begins. His figurative orgasms flash up on screen in the form of fireworks and musical crescendos, and as such his peaks of excitement match the audience’s. Due to that attuned attention to the audience experience, Caballeros’ highly conceptualized flights of fancy don’t feel like animated onanism. The animation and sexual content are so closely alloyed that the visceral joy each element causes becomes indistinguishable from the other.


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Jeremy Heilman