Saturday, August 18, 2007

Exposing my child to Evil

At lunch today, I told the Pájarotorres that I had exposed my child to Evil. "Oh?" said Señor Pájaro. "Yes," said I, "and can you guess what that means in my world?" He thought for a moment. "It does not involve Dick Cheney," I added.

They were stumped.

"I have exposed him to Disney*," I said.

"Well," said Señor P, "not all Disney is bad. I mean, how about the old stuff."

"Ah," I said, "but that's exactly what I exposed him to. Old Disney."

Specifically, The Three Caballeros. Full disclosure: Last night, I was previewing this for my upcoming course on Cinemas of Latin America. I have wanted to include this for quite some time now and I usually just show a clip; my being away for the Telluride Film Festival right at the beginning of the semester, however, allows for it to be shown right at the beginning.

I show the film in this class for a very simple reason: the film exemplifies what Disney (read: Hollywood, read: U.S. filmmakers/audiences) thought of Latin Americans at the time. It's significant because the film was made in 1944 explicitly as part of the Good Neighbor policy to appeal to both U.S. and Latin America markets to show how the entire hemisphere are "birds of a feather." Walt Disney was, in fact, one of two Hollywood filmmakers that toured Latin America on the government's dime to make films that would inspire such camaraderie. (Famously, the other was Orson Welles, whose unfinished film It's All True was exactly not what the U.S. government wanted.) The premise of the film is simple: it's Donald's birthday and his "friends from Latin America" send him some presents, including a filmstrip about a crazy penguin and a gauchito with a flying donkey, a book which produces his good friend Zé Carioca (a cigar-smoking parrot, established in Saludos Amigos, the preceding fuller-length venture into Good Neighbor cartoons) and a piñata-carrying, gun-toting new best friend from Mexico, Panchito the rooster.

Looked at with a keen eye, the film is horribly racist and sexist on many levels. For one thing, at two points in particular, the Latin Americans seem ignorant about their respectiveown cultures: Zé, after extolling the virtues of Baía, admits he has never been there himself; meanwhile, Panchito sings in the title track, "We say, '¡Ay, carramba!'/ What means, 'ay, carramba'?/ Oh yes, I don't know!" Panchito, in particular, is rife with stereotypical depictions reminiscent of Pancho Villa with his two guns and a giant sombrero, and he brings Donald and Zé to Acapulco explicitly to dive-bomb the bikini-clad girls on the beach while flying on a serape. ("Typically American," Donald is a horn-dog from start to finish, of course.) The film is in line with many other studio-period depictions of Latin Americans, from 1933's Flying Down to Rio to 1939's Stagecoach and beyond.

Anyway, last night while previewing, it hit me: Xan would love this.

With that in mind, I could appreciate the wacky zaniness when Donald gets stuck within the animation that precedes Panchito's entrance. I absolutely love the gorgeous images and luscious music of "Baía." Indeed, I think the entire sequence in Brazil is fantastic -- and that includes the part that I slammed above:

The antics of the aracuán are not only hilarious, but also prefigure some antics in the (superior) Warner Brothers cartoon Duck Amuck:

So this morning, right before heading out for lunch and since he and Angela had just come back from checking out the new baby anteater at the Zoo, I decided to show him about 20 minutes of the movie.

Naturally, he loved it. Particularly the aracuán.

So it is that while I am teaching to my students as an example of "horrific portrayals of Latin American in Hollywood film," I may purchase it for myself to show to my son. I figure as long as I stop it before the Mexican sequence begins -- I don't need to explain guns, really, nor Donald's trippy end sequence, and really, it's not like there's a plot within the film -- I may still be OK. And hey, it's just as incongruous as my being Latin and still loving West Side Story... right?

Still, I have exposed him to the Evil Mouse Empire. How long before he wails to go to Disneyworld instead of to colonial Williamsburg? Sigh.

* Apologies to KC, who blogs nice with the Mouse House, heh.


KC said...

Ah, does this mean I am Evil's spawn?

good for you for taking Xan to the dark side. Joles has been there for months.

Middento said...

Clearly, you are Evil's minion. Because "the Dark Side" is Lucasfilm, not Disney. (Sheesh.)

pajaro said...

Note that the Caballeros was made at the same time Disney (with the aid of Dr. Seuss among others) was producing the extremely racist Private Snafu films for our WWII troops. Also Song of the South, right, or was that later? Anyway, not the proudest era for the mouse house, but it was a very different time.