Mike Pence’s Mulan Problem

So, here I am again discussing another Disney reading – or rather a conspiracy theory. This one concerns Mulan and was proffered by newly-minted Vice Presidential candidate Mike Pence when he was a conservative talk show host in Indiana. On his show’s site he penned an op-ed which postulated that Mulan was liberal propaganda, and, in his mind, proof that women should not serve in the armed forces.

The approach I will take to examining this claim is a mostly film theory based. He’s politicizing the apolitical and therefore I will keep most of my discussion focused on his assessments and whether they are truly contextualizing plot and themes correctly.

So let’s begin.

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It starts with the title of the piece (pictured at the bottom of this post): “Women in the Mulan Military.” It’s objectively nonsensical. In the film Mulan there is one woman in the military. She is not allowed to be in the military and poses as male. Or is the lack of proper italicizing to indicate that allowing women to serve “Mulans” our military? Which also makes no sense.

Lack of coherence in titling already paves the way for flawed reasoning.

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In a not-so-minor grammatical note he writes “Fathers Day.” Sorry. It’s Father’s Day. If you are a father it’s your day rather than the day of all fathers. Possessives are important. Already he’s not even made his point and I’m less likely to give any credence to his arguments.

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Then he claims the popularity of the film was all induced by McDonald’s. This gives you a sense of his understanding of the film industry. Disney animated films were on a hot-streak at the time, they always appeal to kids, and McDonald’s tie-in is the work of Disney Marketing not some insidious McDonald’s agenda. Furthermore, it shows his bias from the start. He’s not even synopsized the film yet.

In a film with an anthropomorphized dragon, a fictional creature to begin with, and a cricket in the same vein, he critiques the likelihood of Mulan’s military prowess:

Despite her delicate features and voice, Disney expects us to believe that Mulan’s ingenuity and courage were enough to carry her to military success on an equal basis with her cloddish cohorts.

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Mulan and the voice actress who played her Ming-Na Wen

It’s uncertain how one can read that sentence any thing other than sexist. Apparently, Pence can suspend disbelief on common Disney tropes but a pretty girl who can fight is crazy. Not to mention the fact that this film establishes her as accident prone, and then does a traditional training montage to show the improvement of her martial skills. To Pence’s mind she has to look like G.I. Jane or a butch lesbian to be able to fight.

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If anything in this piece almost holds water it’s this next passage, but even that misses the mark:

Obviously, this is Walt Disney’s attempt to add childhood expectation to the cultural debate over the role of women in the military. I suspect that some mischievous liberal at Disney assumes that Mulan’s story will cause a quiet change in the next generation’s attitude about women in combat and they just might be right. (Just think about how often we think of Bambi every time the subject of deer hunting comes into the mainstream media debate.)

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This is another case of vastly overrating the influence of media on reality. Apparently the integration of women in combat roles during the Gulf War or on combat ships in 1993 or flying combat missions during operation Desert Fox in 1998 doesn’t set-up a childhood expectation just movie about a Imperial Era Chinese girl, who goes only to protect her father and promptly quits when the war is over. That’ll get girls wanting to be in 21st Century wars they “shouldn’t be in.”

As for Bambi, I don’t know anything about deer hunting debates. I didn’t know they existed. I know there is a season for it and regulations around it. Maybe that’s an Indiana thing. Bambi, however, I do know. It was the first movie I remember seeing at the movies. Bambi’s mother’s death is scarring because it’s his mother not because it’s a deer taken down by a hunter. Hunters shoot deer. That’s a fact. In anthropomorphizing forest animals a logical assumption, divorced of political leanings, is that animals would fear hunters. If you think Walt Disney knowingly put liberal propaganda in his films, you don’t know enough about Walt Disney – which he probably doesn’t because even though this piece is from the late ’90s he refers to Walt Disney, the man who was dead more than 30 years, and not Disney, the company that bears his name. Lastly, people twist things up over time. Like the fact that the name Bambi is used almost exclusively for girls in real life even though Bambi in the film is a buck.

From there Pence goes on a tangent about scandals like Tailhook and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. His assessment: men and women stuff will happen. It’s classic victim blaming. It’s like saying “Well, if they weren’t in the military they wouldn’t have been raped and molested.” Try weeding out the rapists and molesters instead.

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When he ties it back to Mulan he states, in closing:

It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer! Me thinks the politically correct Disney types completely missed the irony of this part of the story. They likely added it because it added realism with which the viewer could identify with the characters. You see, now stay with me on this, many young men find many young women to be attractive sexually. Many young women find many young men to be attractive sexually. Put them together, in close quarters, for long periods of time, and things will get interesting. Just like they eventually did for young Mulan. Moral of story: women in military, bad idea.

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Methinks methinks is a compound word.

As for the supposed irony, it’s irony that is informed by Pence’s sexist viewpoint. The subtext of that sentence is: a woman in the military either falls in love with her superior officer or is raped. Yes, there’s Disneyfication like the addition of animal sidekicks, and yes there is a romantic interest; however, that builds additional conflict (the key to drama) as to show one’s feelings could betray her gender, which she is hiding after all.

This is the same kind of knee-jerk reactionary propaganda decree that leads to people thinking Muppets want their children to be Communists or that Frozen will make their daughters lesbians.

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The film is actually one of the earliest feminist characters in the Disney pantheon. She takes matters into her own hands, is a non-conformist, and almost never allows herself to fall to the mercy of a patriarchal society. Pence’s oversimplified statement would make sense if we lived in a bygone era, but we don’t. Politics aside he misses the moral entirely. Mulan doesn’t join the military because she really wants to behead some Huns nor does it caution us about our daughters running off to fight wars incognito.

Mulan pleads for her father to be excused as he is aging and injured. This plea is rebuked. She runs off and takes her father’s place. She risks her freedom and life to protect him. It’s a story about courage, sacrifice, and the family value of honoring elders.

The story is set when it was first written in a poem in about the 5th century. It was a far more impressively progressive statement then than it is now. Apparently, some aren’t ready to come out of the 600s.

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Russia in Classic Film Blogathon: Peter and the Wolf (1946)

Intorduction
This post is my first contribution to the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon.

I have always wanted to sit down and define what to me were the “Great Stories.” By great stories what I mean is those stories where I can watch many different adaptations of it without tiring. This particular story, like many that would be on that as of yet un-drafted list, is one I’ve enjoyed since childhood. This 1946 Disney produced version is the one I first saw.

Since discovering and re-discovering it several times over I have since sought out other versions of the story, including: A ballet produced by the Royal Ballet School; a live action/animation hybrid with characterizations by Chuck Jones and a Soviet stop-motion animation film from the ‘50s (this version will soon be featured on a Short Film Saturday post. As well as crafting my own version for the stage for young actors and musicians to perform.

What I believe draws many to this story is, of course, Prokofiev’s music, but also the inherent humor many have found to counterbalance the true scares the plot points can offer.

Peter and the Wolf (1946)

Peter and the Wolf (1946, Disney)

For the purposes of this blogathon, and to mesh with my March to Disney theme, I will focus solely on Disney’s 1946 version created for inclusion in the anthology film Make Mine Music. This version was also later siphoned off as its own short and released on video (once with the original Sterling Holloway narration, and one time now) and it also accompanied a theatrical re-release of Fantasia, which is rather a perfect pair.

Make Mine Music, I recently discovered is yet another title that has been subject to Disney’s self-censorship having lost an entire segment in all subsequent releases due to concerns over racial insensitivity. However, that is but a compelling footnote here. What compels here is the treatment of Peter and the Wolf within the longer piece.

It’s interesting to consider that this short film was fashioned just 10 years after Prokofiev’s opus debuted, a debut he himself cited as being inauspicious. So in many ways this animation truly is largely responsible for popularizing and immortalizing the piece; at least in the west. Like many lasting works it wasn’t an instant success.

Much like Disney did with the Seven Dwarfs (who had no names in Grimm’s version) he named Peter’s animal friends (Sasha – Bird; Sonja – Duck and Ivan – Cat) and the hunters were also named (Misha, Yasha and Vladimir).

I have written extensively on divorcing oneself from a prior incarnation of a narrative when watching the film. However, when discussing different versions of a work noting changes matters. The introduction of the representative instruments remains, yet the situation with the Duck’s fate is slightly changed from the original.

Peter and the Wolf (1946, Disney)

The short balances real scares like the wolf’s appearance in general, his threatening the duck and other’s are balanced with humorous touches, like Peter’s pop-gun, pantomime action and voice-over dialogue. This follows through to the ending with Peter’s presumed fate and his heroic reveal.

It truly is a fairy tale set to music that also includes some of Disney’s didactic proclivities by having signs in Cyrillic then dissolve to translated versions after being misunderstood. This helps indicate to even the youngest audience members that the story is foreign in origin, but allows them to relate to it through the narrative storytelling technique.

The main action sequence of the film is very well and dramatically rendered. Furthermore, at 13 minutes there’s a more grandiose sprawl to this tale than standard six-to-eight minute shorts allow. Yet, with the musical score usually clocking in around 25 minutes in length it moves more briskly apace than that. Add to that the typical deep, intricate backgrounds, and fanciful setting that Disney can create, and you get a world that is fully realized and dimensional. A narrative landscape that seems much larger than indicated and seems to belie the modesty of budget likely implemented (I hypothesize somewhere between pre-War opulence and wartime belt-tightening).

It’s a rendition that has stood the test of time, and like much classic animation, has come to define pieces of classical music in the minds of those who know it. Whether individually or as part of the underrated Make Mine Music it’s a short that is worth knowing whether you’re a Disney enthusiast or not.

 

 

Thankful for World Cinema: The Red Balloon and White Mane

The Criterion Collection packaged two of the most influential short films of all time on one great, yet stripped-down DVD package. They are both written and directed by the same man, Albert Lamorisse. Both are the recipients of many awards and have quite a few narrative similarities and as such they make great companion pieces.

White Mane, which is shot in stunning black and white with magnificent vistas of the French countryside, Camargue, is a modified tale of a boy and his horse. In this scenario, however, the horse is wild and the boy, whose intentions are pure, wants to keep the horse, whereas the Ranchers seek to only do it harm. It ends in a similar fashion to The Red Balloon except in a somewhat more bittersweet fashion as opposed to the whimsy of the other.

There are some brilliant dissolves in the film and while there is occasional dialogue it is for all intents and purposes a silent film as is The Red Balloon.

The second film in this collection is without a doubt the more well known. As a short it won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in open competition against Hollywood features in 1956. This was a film that conquered the world both literally and figuratively. Yet it drew sharp criticism from one of cinema’s finest critics at the time and later one of its great filmmakers, Francois Truffaut.

Writing for Les Cahiers du Cinema at the time Truffaut literally tore the film to shreds. Rather than regurgitating his entire article point for point let us summarize: Truffaut found the personification of the balloon to be its unpardonable sin. Where Truffaut was coming from was being one who preferred the fables of La Fontaine as opposed to the films of Disney. La Fontaine told the tales about animals without making them speak, without humanizing them in any way and what he felt Lamorisse had done was fall into the schmaltz of Disney.

It is certainly conceivable how one can see this as a problem; however, the opposite view is the one I take. It takes little to fascinate and delight a child and considering that this child is alone most of the time there is the possibility of skewed perspective. It is a simple tale about a child’s delight and is told simply such that we connect. Had it been something other than a balloon it might not have worked but it does. There’s just something primal about it and many do connect with the Disney style, just as the man himself once said: “All right. I’m corny. But I think there’s just about a-hundred-and-forty-million people in this country that are just as corny as I am.”

While each one of these has a very small moment that makes you scratch your head somewhat, a moment which will not be revealed here, both are well worth your while – especially The Red Balloon. They are both fascinating and despite similarities they are their own works with their own distinct approaches to shooting and the edit aside from the obvious fact that one is sleekly shot in black and white and the other in shot in the unparalleled lusciousness of three-strip Technicolor.

White Mane 8/10

The Red Balloon 9/10

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan (1999)

Introduction

In 2012 the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

As I have referenced several times in the past, there was a time when I wandered away from Disney fare but alas I have come home. In looking back it lasted maybe a decade or so. Now, having been back I am occasionally catching up. Thus, having tracked down many Tarzan titles over the past two years revisiting many and parsing them out and finding what in each typically does not work for me I figured it was time to give Disney’s rendition of Tarzan (the initial one) a shot.

As it turns out this film is a nearly unqualified success in both what it does in terms of telling a Tarzan story but also in its smooth manipulation of the standard Disney formulae. In terms of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation, as best as prior cinematic adaptations are concerned it distills merely one book, Tarzan of the Apes, and adapts that to tell its story. So far as Disney has been concerned there was no other blueprint to go off of because they were tackling the tale for the first time.

With an opening that is dialogue-free, save for Phil Collins’ source music; the film begins rather quietly and powerfully. The connection established between an orphaned babe and Kala, a female gorilla who rescues him and raises him as her own. The technique of animation allows for more exacting and concise editorial decisions about what needs to be shown. Since there are no live animals, but ones constantly under control of the animators, the temptation of cutting to something for cute factor is gone. Clearly, cultural mores changed over time, but the fact that this film deals strictly in an origin allows it to convey characters on a more human level, and avoid pitfalls some past films faced.

Tarzan (Disney, 1999)

Interesting from a Disney standpoint is that the characters do not sing, the music is played as part of the score. There’s one moment of instrumentation but they are not anthropomorphic chorus members this time. Tarzan’s sliding about as if strapped to an invisible surfboard through jungle trees gets a bit trite but it does add a controlled kinetic element and makes him seem superhuman. Also a stumbling block that is overcome is that of language. It takes some suspension of disbelief, but Tarzan and his family can talk to one another, but when he meets Jane, her father, and Clayton; he can only grunt at first and then he learns to parrot and eventually understand. This is well-covered with artful montages.

By getting away from certain conventions that other Tarzan movies set, and spinning the tale a Disney way, while also tweaking certain expectations of a Disney film the road to success is already paved. In a pleasurable surprise, however, the film also does manage to tug at the heartstrings like most Disney fare does – more strongly here. Also, Disney flips the script on a template established in The Jungle Book. A successful restructuring of a given pattern can be a joy to watch, conversely a failure of such an attempt is difficult to deal with.

Taking all that in mind, with so many other versions under my belt, and with the hallmark Disney delivery of the origin, this may be the Tarzan film I was looking for all along the one that combines adventure, emotion and the intrinsically fascinating things about this tale in one package.

March to Disney: Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)

This was a title that I wanted to discuss during 61 Days of Halloween, however, one of the good things about having multiple annual topics is that you will frequently find overlaps. Such is the case with Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. Yes, it’s another DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), and another from the earlier days of Disney Channel’s sojourn into made-for-TV films.

The title is indicative of a few things: 1) what it’s about 2) That it’s at least partly (actually mostly comedic). The release date also give you a hint that said date is not seen as a good thing, seeing as how this is pre-Twilight.

As is the case with any of these titles that work a lot of the debt is owed to the cast, and this one runs pretty deep with Charlotte Rhea, Charles Shaughnessy, Robert Carradine, Matt O’Leary, Jake Epstein and Myles Jeffrey. More on that to follow.

The films begins with a movie-within-a-movie which sets the stage first for some of the comedic aspects, for the gothic (read: traditional) treatment of vampires, sets up characters and is used as a point of reference for rules when the kids find they are faced with a real vampire.

It is a an extremely structurally sound film as nothing is superfluous and things that seem like they are just fenestration do play a role later on and play into the plot everything from the desire to see a band called the Headless Horseman at the Harvest Festival, the promise of a date, the mention of mom (Rhea) having been in a band before, and more.

Typically in reviewing I avoid over-focus on the acting – not because it’s not important but mostly because it’s just one aspect of the film that needs to be discussed. In this film it’s what I frequently remember but it’s the solid foundation, the details in terms of the use of vampires that stand out.

There are a lot of hidden jokes for fans of the genre and a great implementation of archetypes commonly found in horror films. The discovery of the threat and the willingness to believe it’s true is very tied in to character arcs in the film.

Those arcs are accentuated by how good the performances are, and similarly virtually all the characters have pronounced, well-wrought and significant ones which is in fact a rare accomplishment. Matt O’Leary, had quite a few good turns as a young actor. The fact that this rivals his performance in Frailty is a testament to his skilled reads and reactions to situations, and the material. Playing his sidekick in a small, but not insignificant role, is Jake Epstein, who was perhaps best known as one of the forebears on the new-age Degrassi he is so good in this – such a different character than I saw him in afterward.

A perfect example of the cast’s work is a scene wherein Adam (O’Leary) is grounded (again set up by a seemingly innocuous improvised essay he created by reading a tabloid). It’s the kind of scene you see various times, but everyone O’Leary, Rhea and Laura Vadervoort; is so on that it works a lot better than it should.

That leads to the kids’ plotting which sets up everything that happens after that. If you’re after silly escapism, you’ll like this; if after a wink and knowing nod to the vampire subgenre, you should like this. If you like DCOM seasonal fare, you should love this. And that’s why I wanted to write about it of the Halloween-themed ones it’s by far the best and rarely airs. I had to re-screen it off a VHS recording I made in 2001. It’s a Disney title that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

A Disney Musical Suggestion

There are likely a branches of the Disney media empire I’m not too big a fan of, perhaps the one that is the most confounding to me is the line of altered-for-younger-audiences musicals like Aladdin Jr., The Little Mermaid, Jr. and the like. Part of what I really don’t get is that content-wise there’s usually not much removed and simplified for younger audiences. If anything it seems to be just about managing expectations.

Now I fully recognize that the acquisition of rights, and staging could be more affordable. The musical tracks provided may well be simplified to be easier for young vocalists to learn. Having said all that the addition of the word “Junior” seems to add the connotations that a) it’s not the real thing and b) you ought to lower your expectations.

Now, I will hand it to them for allowing schools flexibility with things like the One-Act edition of High School Musical and things of that nature, which can allow those crunched for time and funds to more easily stage something accessible. While that is a much different creature than a slightly-truncated stage version of an animated classic, it’s still a less-than-ideal translation of all the intended elements of a story.

And, one might argue, rightly so, that High School Musical‘s heyday of cultural relevance has come and gone. Which brings me to my actual suggestion of a stage adaptation of something so far out of consciousness it my seem new, that and it wouldn’t be an edited version at all.

Even Stevens was one the first break-out hits Disney Channel had. It was one of the first that got me watching even though I was not the demographic any longer. Independent of the recent antics of Shia Labeouf, the show remains, as it ever has been quite funny, and in perhaps its most memorable episode it featured a musical episode that was Ren’s (Christy Carlson Romano) fever dream called “Influenza: The Musical.”

Being a half-hour (read: 23 minutes) sitcom it’s a perfect one act length that you needn’t cut. The setting is school, it relates to kids and has memorable songs.

While its still up, you can view it here, and that brings me to the last point: in an age becoming ever more digital Disney’s vaulting, and at times squatting on its own titles; burrowing them away,
not seeking to invest any more in them just makes no sense. Either downloads or disc-on-demand services would make sense for so many Disney titles; and making this a stage musical would be quite the easy feat.

Introduction: March to Disney 2014

As profiled on one of my newer pages this is my annual tribute to Disney and its works in all shapes and sizes. On the aforementioned page you can see the titles I have profiled in the past. This year I am seeking to cover a few more and dip my toe back into the TV waters on a new installment of Cinematic Episodes. There will be shorts and some other surprises through the course of the month. Come back early and often and see what this year’s posts have to offer.

The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon, 1944: Carmen Miranda, The Three Caballeros and the Good Neighbor Policy

Introduction and Approach

With the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon it was always my feeling that there was, and is, only so much of any given time period that one can truly discuss given the confines of a blog post. Truly if you’re looking at an artform such as film one that was so fruitful at this time, and already a global enterprise, then it becomes doubly impossible to accurately encompass the landscape at the time.

Therefore, I felt that the best way to tackle this year was to find an entry point. An entry that would allow me to discuss the topic I chose to focus on through the guise of one film. The Good Neighbor Policy, due to my being a dual citizen of the United States and Brazil, was always a topic that fascinated me. Therefore, I found my “in” in 1944’s (due to its premiere date in Mexico) The Three Caballeros.

Ideally, I would’ve loved to have taken in more retrospective viewings of various artists leading up to this post. As fate would have it, this blogathon fell around a time where the blog was very busy and my viewings are slight. Therefore, I hope it will inspire future viewings. In the meantime, however, there are insights one can glean from this title, and some things I do know to be true about how a pacifist, isolationist policy of non-interference did open up Hollywood to new names, voices and cultures.

Political Background

FDR Inauguration 1933

The film that is the centerpiece of this article is one that comes towards the end of The Good Neighbor Policy’s era. An era commonly defined as ending in 1945 with the threat of the Cold War looming following the end of the World War.

The policy was intimated at Roosevelt’s inaugural address in 1933:

“In the field of World policy, I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor, the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others, the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a World of neighbors.”

This policy was later formalized as any number of occupations and treaties were altered to reflect said intention, and later the formation of the Office of the Coordinator Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) in August of 1940 and appointed Nelson Rockefeller to head the organization. The Great Depression’s necessities aside, it was a policy a long time coming, whereas two such examples of US involvement in Brazil were attempts to free the Amazon waterways for trade and siding with Bolivia with politically, and with additional kinds of support if necessary, in a dispute over a piece of land that now forms the state of Acre.

The Policy’s Impact on Hollywood

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It was the CIAA that pushed the Good Neighbor Policy into the entertainment field. Walt Disney Studios and 20th Century Fox participated; RKO can be said to (though Welles never finished his documentary, and his being sent to Brazil has been generally cited as an excuse to wrest control of the edit of The Magnificent Ambersons away from him).

The question of how much influence entertainment has is always something open to debate, however, there’s no question that when seeking to improve an image in the American consciousness the World’s Fair of 1939 was one step, but the motion picture would reach many more hearts and minds.

With regards to Carmen Miranda, who representing Brazil, rose to stardom earlier than Disney could get their efforts to the screen; it illustrates the double-edged sword of a nation being brought out of its shell and into the consciousness of another for the first time.

Miranda received lavish praise and early stardom here in the US and eventual backlash in Brazil that was ultimately rescinded, just prior to, and upon her untimely passing. Essentially, the difficulty, and the issue is, that no one person is a monolith. She is not a monolith, she is not “The Brazilian bombshell,” but a Brazilian; one Brazilian. While the studio system of the 1940s was the perfect time to bring about some stars generated from these policies due to the amount of films generated and the star-specific packaging many titles employed, it was also a time sure illustrate some issues in the way global figures were handled in pre-globalized world.

Now I grant that I’ve seen footage of Miranda but not the films, but I know her playing an Argentine in Down Argentine Way is a stretch, so I take some of the same issues with that concept as they did.

Essentially, I view Miranda as a unique personality and persona that seemed to have been shoehorned into almost anything Latin in her time at Fox. The failure of Fox is a lack of specificity, which is where Disney excels in their treatment of Brazilian subject matter.

1944

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The road to the creation of The Three Caballeros really begins with the release of Saludos Amigos two years prior. Where the Three Caballeros stands out is adding another new character to the mix and expanding the what we knew of one character. And it is worth noting that being ahead of the curve by about 70 years these films premiered in Brazil and in Mexico, as mentioned above, respectively a few months ahead of hitting US theaters.

Saludos Amigos features four segments (Lake Titicaca, Pedro, El Gaucho Goofy and Aquarela do Brasil) the first features Donald in classic form struggling on a journey through the mountains; the second an anthropomorphized airplane on an adventure through Chile; thirdly, as one might expect from the title, it’s Goofy flubbing through the ways of the South American cowboy; then via the newly-introduced José Carioca, or Zé Carioca as he is known colloquially, Donald is given a musical medley, metamorphosing watercolor tour of Brazil.

The Three Caballeros

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The Three Caballeros is similarly constructed in a composite style. However, as opposed to Saludos Amigos it gets into full-blown feature film range (71 minutes) as opposed to Saludos Amigos‘ technically-feature-film-but-really-a-short film range (42 min).

This film puts Donald Duck front and center as opposed to just having a segment. Donald not only makes it a humorous film, but is also perhaps the most representatively American character to go on a South/Latin American tour. Not only that but the precedent of bird characters had already been set with José Carioca being introduced last time, and Panchito Pistoles joining the trio this time.

The framing mechanism in this film is birthday presents to Donald. The great thing is that the first segment is going to Bahia, a part of Brazil it turns out Zé only knows by reputation, which is a move I appreciate because it tips its hat to how big and regional a country Brazil is.

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Next there is The Cold-Blooded Penguin segment which is a great way to incorporate going all the way up the Pacific coast of South America. There is a quick interstitial with some rare bird species introduced that it also used to transition, and there’s also a hilarious tongue-in-cheek reference to Professor Holloway voiced by Sterling Holloway.

Whereas the last film there was an Argentine gaucho tale here there is a Uruguayan gaucho one with tale of the flying donkey, The Flying Gauchito. While being influenced by the Good Neighbor Policy and at time didactic by nature there is also a good bit of naturalness where things are sometimes just said and not instantly translated, or translated at all, and just left to incite further curiosity.

With the tour of Bahia there is beautiful scenery, which I’d like to see restored. Implementation of live-action and animation co-exisiting. It also allows the music to speak for itself. Music which for this film, in Portuguese, was written by the famous Brazilian sambista Ary Barroso.

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So in his two-film stint Zé Carioca gets a decent tour of Brazil in. Owing to the fact that Mexico is our neighbor to the south, and that this is Panchito’s lone appearance, I understand how and why Mexico gets a much more thorough tour. It starts with the introduction of the history of the piñata and a Mexican Christmas custom of Posada; continuing with the Story of flag/Mexico City; there’s a song accompanied by montage; a Favorite dance illustrated, a trip to Veracruz for the Lilingo; Acapulco beach; the second live action/animated sequence: “You Belong to My Heart” that leads into a long very Disney, with Berkeley allusions; a metamorphosing montage concluding in literal fireworks, and a trilingual “The End.”

Aftermath

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Zé Carioca still survives, and, in fact, thrives in comics in Brazil. Being an originally by Disney he’s a obviously canonical, but is a testament to the power that the Disney characters have in that medium. In fact, in the Brazilian comics his own universe has expanded to include many supporting characters and cousins that represent different parts of the country. Aside from that he has resurfaced in American comics in stories by Don Rosa; on television, in Mickey Mouse Works and House of Mouse and in film as one of the many cameos in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In the Disney Parks, the addition The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros reintroduces them to many.

Panchito Pistoles, aside from being a mascot on some Mexican WWII aircraft, he has not had much life outside American-made Disney products.

Funnily enough, while there were mixed feelings about Brazil’s first breakthrough thanks to the Good Neighbor Policy, the cartoon no less, that has had a bit of staying power and seems to have offered a less controversial representation. It’s well documented, even in a documentary that I’ve not yet seen, but want to; that Disney and/or his team spent a bit of time in Latin America therefore they got a good sense of the culture and at least on parts I can attest to didn’t go off half-cocked. and created some lasting, lovely tributes to a people and a culture that have stood the test of time.

Conclusion

Kiss of the Spider-Woman (1985, HB Filmes)

It’s pretty interesting to have happened upon this topic now. I recently discussed both the breakthroughs and the lamentations I had about the globalization of casting. My impetus was another, but the discussion of current Brazilian actors and the roles they are afforded in American films for global consumption is oddly not that different that this one.

A progressive governmental impetus was a great breakthrough for Latin culture in the American cinema. Not to be overly-reductive, but it’s sad the Cold War retarded whatever progress could’ve been built off that momentum for a number of years, and when you consider that McCarthyism would soon be in play and careers and lives would be ruined it’s not too far from accurate. As best as I can figure there would not be another Brazilian-born actress breaking through into American films in any significant way until the mid-eighties [Marília Pêra in Mixed Blood (1984) and Sonia Braga in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1985)].

However, I do have hopes regarding the ever-digitizing and -shrinking world that both the long-overlooked past will not be ignored and that mistakes of the past will be righted in the future. There’s a hilarious Carmen Miranda gag on Family Guy where Carter says: “Am I a singer or a dancer? No one knows, they just remember the fruit.” Which is the sad truth with regards to the past. As for the future, the bottom line is that when you go outside what’s known there are new and interesting stories to be told. The Three Caballeros is testament to that, which is 70 years old. Maybe one day we’ll learn from that.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 2 of 5)

This is an list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979)

The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979, Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation)

One theme that was hard to split up among all these lists were the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder. While Fassbinder made the lists in 2011 and 2012 I saw one and two films of his in those years respectively. This year I saw quite a bit more, and then got both region 2 box set of his films.

I was more hooked on his work than any other filmmaker this year, and this is the first of his selections that will show up here. The postbellum period in Germany’s history was one of his major preoccupations and while I’ve not yet seen all that’s readily available this appears to be both the most evocative and effective of his works on the time period; whereas Fassbinder paints the portrait of a nation, and a period of time, through the eyes of one woman.

The Narrow Margin (1952)

The Narrow Margin (1952, RKO Radio Picutres)

This is another selection from 31 Days of Oscar and was one of the films I had heard the least about going into my viewing. Here was my initial take:

Here’s another film with a short running time but a hell of a lot of wallop. The setup is great: cops escorting a grand jury witness cross-country to testify against a mobster. When you throw in the fact that it’s a film noir tale, you know you’re gonna be thrown for a loop quite a few times and boy does it have some doozies up its sleeve. This movie’s the kind of good that had me absolutely buzzing after it was over. Amazing.

It was a late night viewing that kept me riveted and is very memorable.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968)

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band (1968, Disney)

Viewed, but not written up, during my March to Disney theme this film had a few surprises in store. Sure enough there were a few staples of Disney live-action musicals within in, especially enjoyable toe-tapping songs; but perhaps most surprising (in a move reflective of the time in which the film was produced, and something that would never happen now) there’s a lot of familial in-fighting of a political nature. Not only that but the backdrop is one of frontier days prior to the Dakotas joining the union. Therefore, there’s also an American history reminder folded neatly into the plot, which if you pay close attention to the Walt Disney World attractions was a favorite of Uncle Walt himself also. There’s much to like in this not-too-frequently-referred-to film.

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

Hearts of Humanity (1932)

This is a film that was part of my Poverty Row April theme this past year. It’s also an example of how the initial scoring is not always indicative of how lasting a film will be. There was a film that scored higher, in part because of a more generic title, that I had to slip back in to the final post because this one was more memorable.

Here’s a blurb from my original review:

In this film there’s an example of much of what I was talking about as a boy is orphaned one day through two unrelated acts. Both his parents die on the same day. His father has just learned of his mother’s demise when he meets his unfortunate fate. The plot that follows his less high-stakes to an extent, but it is moving. Jean Hersholt is endearing in the lead and Jackie Searl shows his ability to play endearing characters as well as conniving ones, though his Irish accent isn’t that great. It’s a simple film, but a truly enjoyable one in the style that only this era could produce.

This is a film you can find on archive.org.

Blood Car (2007)

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I’m not very up-to-date on HBO and Showtime. I have, at the moment, one show I watch on DVD (i.e. late) from each. I say that by way of an introduction to the fact that I’ve been slow to catch up on the Anna Chlumsky renaissance, most notably HBO’s Veep. Granted she has a supporting role, but this was one of her first roles back from her departure from acting after a promising, if not A-list, career as a young actress.

Blood Car is a hilarious horror/comedy that riffs tremendously on current events and concerns and takes them to absurd extremes for comedic and horrific effect. Fueling automobiles with blood is a tad ridiculous, but how far away from that are we really?

Ariel (1988)

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Over the course of the week via Netflix I finally viewed the Proletariat Trilogy, which I had meant to see for quite some time. I thought that perhaps the films were just going to seem passable, although brisk, a bit off-balance comedically, unique and visual; but then there was Ariel. A man’s father commits suicide and he is framed for a crime he didn’t commit. Upon escaping from jail he wants to flee the country but of course things don’t go smoothly. I would recommend all the films as they are short and quick-moving but this is the unusually warmest and most human.

Orphans of the Storm (1921)

The Gish Sisters

Here’s one I was able to see, yes, because it’s on YouTube but the reason I even looked for it was a blogathon. Silent features, even if you’ve seen more than a few, can be a bit daunting; especially one this lengthy. However, the later the vintage on a silent feature the more like the modern language of film it is, that and this film very quickly absorbs you as I stated in more words in my original post.

Dead Ringer (1964)

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I shouldn’t have to try too hard to sell a film starring Bette Davis and Bette Davis. However, what bears noting is that the film is worth watching for more than just the unique double-starring role for the legend. It’s a classic revenge thriller formula with a great ending and brilliant support from Karl Malden.

The Fly (1958) and Return of the Fly (1959)

The Fly (1958, 20th Century Fox)

I discussed the entire original Fly Trilogy during 61 Days of Halloween. However, they really stood out through now. I took a while to watch the box, and didn’t get in as many new vintage titles during that timeframe this year as I wanted to, but these were great not just on their own but also how they work back to back (as I watched them very close to one another. They make a great double-bill.