Saludos Amigos, meaning 'Hello Friends', is a combined animated and live-action Disney film made predominantly for the South American market in 1943. At 42 minutes, it is the shortest feature-length film made by Walt Disney Productions. This was a film made quickly and cheaply, in many ways simply in order to keep the studio going at a time of chaos and crisis. Unlike more prestigious Disney films made in the 1940s such as Pinocchio, Fantasia and Bambi, Saludos Amigos made a modest profit.
Saludos Amigos is considered Walt Disney's sixth Animated Classic and is the studio's seventh feature-length film featuring animation1, despite featuring live action as well as animation. This was Disney's third feature-length film to combine both live action and animation, following Fantasia (1940) and The Reluctant Dragon (1941).
The film is narrated by Fred Shields. He describes the events depicted in Walt Disney's silent 16mm holiday film footage as well as narrating the short animated films. Some scenes in which music appears were later dubbed with the appropriate instruments. Among the Disney team in South America were Lee Blair, an Olympic Gold Medal-winning artist2 and his wife Mary Blair. Mary was one of Disney's most talented and influential artists and imagineers. She not only developed concept art for Disney films made in the 1940s and 1950s, she created the look of the It's a Small World After All ride.
Others included Norman Ferguson, an animator most famous for creating the look of Pluto, also credited with directing, Frank Thomas, one of Disney's core animation team nicknamed 'The Nine Old Men'. He was the Directing Animator on many Disney films made from 1940 to 1959. He later voiced cameo characters in The Iron Giant (1999) and The Incredibles (2004) in tribute.
Donald Duck made his first appearance in 1934 and is one of Disney's most popular characters. In fact, he has appeared in more short films and feature-length films than any other character, including Mickey Mouse. When Mickey Mouse became a cultural icon and was considered a role model by many, Donald was created in order to be Mickey's naughty comic foil who is led into trouble by his short temper. As well as well over 150 short films, including the Oscar-winning Der Fuehrer's Face (1942), he has appeared in numerous full-length films. These include Disney Classics such as The Three Cabelleros (1944), Fun and Fancy Free (1947), Melody Time (1948) and Fantasia 2000 (1999), he has appeared in other Disney films such as The Reluctant Dragon (1941) and opposite Daffy Duck in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Donald was first voiced by Clarence Nash in 1934, he last played Donald in 1984 50 years later.
Goofy is a dog first created in 1932 under the name 'Dippy Dawg' but renamed 'Goofy' the same year. Appearing in numerous short films, both on his own and also with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, he was one of the most popular Walt Disney characters. He was voiced by Pinto Colvig, who also voiced Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz and Sleepy and Grumpy in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. In 1938 Pinto Colvig left Disney Studios; in the 1940s Goofy appeared in a series of How To short films in which his actions are narrated to avoid the need for him to have dialogue. Goofy had his own television series, Goof Troop (1992-3), about his relationship with his son Max. This led to films A Goofy Movie (1995) and An Extremely Goofy Movie (2000). He last appeared in a short film in 2007, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, to test a new animation technique that combined hand-drawn and digital animation before making The Princess and the Frog (2009)
José Carioca is a dapper Brazilian parrot who made his first appearance in Saludos Amigos. Green, he usually carries an umbrella and cigar and wears a bow tie and hat. He appears in The Three Caballeros (1944) and 'Blame it on the Samba' in Melody Time (1948), as well as briefly appearing in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988). José Oliveira was the multi-lingual voice artist who voiced José Carioca and also dubbed many Disney films into Spanish, Portuguese and Italian.
By August 1940 Walt Disney Studio was $3 million in debt to the Bank of America, which ordered a reduction in expenses, especially wages. With over 1,200 members of staff, the studio was forced to consider letting many of them go, as well as reduce the wages of the rest. Suddenly anyone could be fired on the slightest pretext while people who did the same job did not receive the same wage. In May 1941 Walt fired a large number of his staff who he knew belonged to the Screen Cartoonists Guild Union, which led to many of his remaining staff going on strike, with Disney films boycotted across America. Organisations such as Technicolor refused to process Disney films in sympathy for the strikers. The strike lasted until September 1941. When it ended Walt Disney Studios had a staff of 694 and the Bank of America had installed an Executive Committee controlled by a bank representative to govern the studio.
In 1941, the studio began working for the Co-ordinator of Inter-American Affairs, US State Department body designed to strengthen ties between the United States and Latin America. This was headed by Nelson Rockefeller3. The studio was to be paid $150,000 to make short films about South America to be shown there, in order to counteract the Axis propaganda the countries were being exposed to and to bolster US/South American relations during the Second World War. While Walt Disney and a select group of animators were in South America touring the continent in preparation for this film, at home the Disney strike was ongoing. While Walt Disney was in South America, Walt's father Elias died on 13 September. Walt chose not to attend the funeral.
By early 1942 it was instead decided to combine these short animated films into a full-length animated feature. The first of these was originally made with the title of Saludos and later renamed Saludos Amigos (meaning 'Hello Friends'). Made for the South American market and with Europe still at war, it made financial sense to strengthen ties with these available customers.
Saludos was not the only film in progress at the time, with the government also commissioning Disney to make a series of ten health and agriculture educational films for the South American audience. These included The Winged Scourge, in which the Seven Dwarfs combat the malaria-carrying Anopheles Mosquito by spraying oil on water to kill mosquito larvae, using arsenic-based Paris Green pesticide throughout their house and burying rubbish in their garden. Later health films were part of the 'Health for the Americas' series, and included titles such as Cleanliness brings Health, The Unseen Enemy and Planning for Good Eating. These emphasised the importance of keeping clean, not using cornfields as latrines, preventing the spreading of germs and eating a balanced diet. The experience also inspired Pluto and the Armidillo (1943), a short film more in Disney's traditional style.
The film was assembled in July 1942 and shown to Rockefeller and President Roosevelt, who heartily approved. It was then released to a huge success in South America, although there were complaints from countries which hadn't featured in the film. This naturally led to a sequel with segments set in those countries, named The Three Caballeros ('The Three Gentlemen'). Both Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros were made cheaply and garnered a modest profit.
South of the Border with Disney (1942)
A 30-minute making-of documentary, titled South of the Border with Disney, was made to accompany this film. This showed the inspiration for the film's segments.
Saludos Amigos was made with three aims:
- To bolster South American links with the United States and to counteract the effects of pro-Nazi propaganda on that continent.
- As a means to open up the South American market to Disney films at a time the European market was cut off due to the Second World War.
- As a way the studio could keep going and continue to exist at a period of crisis.
As a historical record, Saludos Amigos is a fascinating look at American perceptions of South America in the mid-1940s. As a film it is less coherent; there is no denying that it is a compilation film consisting of four short films held together essentially by Walt Disney's home movie of his holiday in South America.
At a time in which the Disney Strike had gained newspaper headlines, the film was as much propaganda for the home market as abroad. The films shows happy Disney animators happily working animating and drawing in contrast to the protests seen elsewhere.