Saludos Amigos is officially the sixth Disney animated feature film, but it's also the first that doesn't really feel like a feature at all. For those of you who have never seen it (and I bet even among Disney fans, there are a lot of you), Saludos Amigos is four different animated shorts, linked together with live-action footage of Walt Disney and his animators touring South America and showing where they found inspiration for the shorts.
While it's true that Fantasia was also an assemblage of shorts, (and that I'm not Fantasia's biggest fan either), that movie at least had surer goals, loftier ambitions, and a stronger connection between the different sections. They were also quite different from typical Disney animated shorts. What we have in Saludos Amigos, on the hand, are two Donald Duck shorts, a Goofy Short, and another starring a little airplane. The only link being they all take place in South America.
Let's look at the four shorts:
Donald Duck is on vacation in Bolivia and spends most of the short struggling to control a llama as they cross the Andes. There are some fun antics along the way, but even for a Donald Duck short, it's not a particularly strong one.
The story of a young airplane that has to fill in on a treacherous mail run when his father is temporarily out of commission. Again, it feels like a slightly below-average short. The story is really light: Pedro must fly over a mountain range, pick up the mail, and return home while avoiding the treacherous winds of the mountains. Cute, but forgettable.
El Gaucho Goofy:
Of these first three utterly traditional shorts, El Gaucho Goofy if the strongest. This one is done in the style of the classic Goofy How-To shorts in which a bombastic narrator provides educational information while Goofy attempts and fails to act out the story the narration is providing. This one is at least solidly entertaining.
Aquarela do Brasil (or "Watercolor of Brazil"):
The only sequence of this film that feels like something a little bit more than a standard Disney short. We start with a paint brush creating scenes of Brazilian wilderness that come to life once completed. Eventually, one colorful flower transforms into Donald Duck who is then on hand to witness the creation of his Brazilian counterpart, the parrot Jose Carioca. The two birds share a drink and then a musical celebration of the country. This short is the most inventive and the only one that really feels like a celebration of South America. The art is the most lovely and daring of the whole feature, and Jose is a likeable if only slightly defined character. Unfortunately, the sequence does end abruptly (and the film along with it).
And that's all there is to it. A thin bit of narration about Disney artists seeking inspiration in South America and a series of decent, but not outstanding shorts. There's nothing really wrong with Saludos Amigos (aside from the first two shorts getting a little boring), but there's not a lot really right with it either.
I give it four out of 10 Mickeys:
If you care to purchase Saludos Amigos (and the Three Caballeros) on DVD: