Thursday, September 27, 2007
My grandmother introduced me to "The Three Caballeros" when I was just a little girl. At the time I think I was too young to appreciate this oddity of a Disney film, preferring, as most children do, films like 101 Dalmatians and Sleeping Beauty. But I grew to love it. And looking back on it I can understand why Grandma loved it too. The movie captures something of the time splendidly: not just for the 1940's women in their Jantzen swimwear and red lipstick, but especially for the music - the big band style bossa nova songs, mixed with the sultry sambas, all of them somehow still reminiscent of the wartime era.
As you may know, "Caballeros" and the film's prequel, "Saludos Amigos", were commissioned by the U.S. Department of State during WWII to build positive relations with and find allies in South and Central America. As the Wiki article notes, the most popular U.S. figure there was Mickey Mouse. Ironically, the Mouse was never included in either film, but instead Donald Duck was the highlighted star with appearances by Goofy and the newest character, Jose Carioca.
But as I mentioned before, what really stands out about the films is the fantastic use of music - something, I would definitely say, the Disney films of late have been lacking. It's so easy to talk about how good animation/concept art plays a crucial role in a successful animated feature - and it does. But Walt knew that music also had the ability to heighten the senses and draw viewers into a film. Music played a crucial role in all of Disney's film, even cartoon shorts. Admittedly I may be a bit biased here in the selection of films I'm featuring in this post to serve as an example of the importance of music in animated film as I happen to love, and I do mean love, bossa nova.
But for Walt, this was a totally new style of music and type of film. Where on earth would he find music to accompany such a unique film? According to Daniella Thompson's extremely informative website on Brazilian composer Ary Barroso, this is ultimately how Walt selected the (now) most famous of the movies' songs, "Aquarela do Brasil", better known to us now as simply, "Brazil":
In August 1941, Walt Disney visited Brazil on a U.S. State Department Good Neighbor Policy mission. In Belém do Pará, he complained to journalist Celestino Silveira that the hotel band was playing only North American tunes. Silveira asked the musicians to play Brazilian music, and the pianist played “Aquarela do Brasil,” reportedly badly. On the flight from Belém to Rio de Janeiro, Disney discussed the creation of the Zé Carioca character and the kind of song that should accompany it. He remembered “Aquarela” and asked Silveira if he knew the composer. Silveira told him that he could present him the next day. The following day, Disney and Barroso met at a cocktail party given by the U.S. consulate at the hotel Glória in Rio. They conversed about the song, and right there it acquired the title “Brazil.”
In addition to "Brazil", Disney incorporated the song "Na Baixa do Sapateiro", or "Bahia", into "The Three Caballeros" in 1944. "Brazil" has been covered by the likes of Carmen Miranda and bossa-nova legend Joao Gilberto, and evidently was voted the best Brazilian song of the Century.
Where can you hear these tunes you ask? Well, have I got a treat for you. I stumbled upon a veritable goldmine while researching the net for this post. And don't be put off by the seemingly low-brow nature the name of the website conjures: KiddieRecords.com. The truth is, this is a fantastic resource that converts and uploads a variety of mid-century children's records: album art, inserts, mp3 and all. So not only can you find and download music from series such as Howdy Doody and movies such as "The Three Caballeros", but you can also enjoy high-quality scans of the album art as well. It's an visual and audio treat all in one!
You can enjoy music from "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros" by clicking the appropriate link and opting to either stream the music or download the albums in their entirety. The LP album art from both movies is courtesy of the KiddieRecords.com sites and copyrighted by Disney. I would also like to point out that iTunes has really impressed me of late by adding heretofore rare and hard-to-find Disneyland Records and soundtracks to its downloads. Clicking on the iTunes link will direct you to the "Saludos Amigos" album which is really a composite of "Saludos Amigos" and "The Three Caballeros" music. Be warned: this isn't the music directly from the movie's soundtrack (as far as I've found out that's only available on the LP's through the KiddieRecords.com site), it's a remake of all the songs and produced, again, in that 1940's style.