February 5, 1945 [Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros]

You know you’re done for when Ecuador feels it’s safe to declare war on you, as it did on Germany a few days ago. Now that the Battle of the Bulge is officially over, we can settle down--can’t we?

I will try not to be glib: The Soviets have liberated the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, and one fears to open a newspaper. I suspect the battlefield will not figure in the public nightmare as deeply as these final European horrors--and everything that’s still to come in the Pacific, as the Japanese build funeral pyres of our ships--and we prepare to close in on their cities. An implacable wrath is falling as this War ignites its final fires all over the world.

--a world that’s shrinking. FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy now seems a necessity born out of nervous exhaustion. As the map is reconfigured, we are eager to know where to tread--and the looks we’ll get from the locals as we do so. We’re hoping that tourism, trade, loans--money--will smooth the way, will keep at least one hemisphere in line.

I don’t mean to be cynical, but the War is such a monstrous thing that I’m not sure Walt Disney and the gay folks at Technicolor will be able to convince us it’s OK to go back to sleep, it was all just a bad dream. Saludos Amigos a few years back gave us Goofy the Gaucho and some swell shots of the Andes--and much of the rest of Latin America, an animated geography lesson, flying high above, all of it spread out like a feast prepared just for us--and everything looks good enough to buy. And The Three Caballeros tries to out-surreal Fantasia with its startling collage of song and live action, animation and illustration of every medium, from pastel to oil to watercolor to pencil and on and on--with a surprising dose of Donald Duck sexuality, as he woos and wows beautiful women from Baia to Acapulco, becoming a Pink Elephant on Parade in the process.

The message is clear: Once Europe and the East are leveled, we can fly on down to Rio--or any point south--and bask at last. I promised myself not to be glib, but this wild veering from horror to relief to musical numbers we all some day can sing along to is making me queasy. The cartoon was great fun--stunning, at times: Disney may toe the line when it comes to foreign policy, but his animators are unbounded dervishes behind their pens and brushes. But I can take my family to the movies and get them an ice cream afterward and drive home in the early twilight and tuck the children into bed, and the newspaper still will be waiting for me in the morning with the latest news from the death camps.


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