Touring Mexico With the Three Caballeros
Long before Justin Timberlake, before the Beatles, and even before Elvis Presley, there were the Three Caballeros. Those three happy chappies in snappy serapes took the world of music and Hollywood by storm when they debuted in the 1944 film, “The Three Caballeros.”
The movie was a mix of live action and animation. It was produced as part of Disney’s participation in the Good Neighbor policy instituted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt toward countries in Latin America. Saludos Amigos, released in 1942, was the first film in this effort. In that film, Donald Duck met Jose Carioca, a dapper Brazilian parrot who was perpetually smoking a cigar. Donald and Jose would go on to become two thirds of the Three Caballeros group.
Rounding out the trio is Panchito Pistoles of Mexico (full name Panchito Romero Miguel Junipero Francisco Quintero González III). Prior to his time with the Three Caballeros, Panchito had appeared in a 1943 Disney comic, in which he fell in love with Clara Cluck.
For a time, the trio could be found in the Magic Kingdom as part of the Mickey Mouse Revue, where they appeared in Audio Animatronic form. The attraction closed in 1980, and the audio animatronics were shipped to Tokyo Disneyland, where they remained until 2009.
In 2007, Walt Disney Word introduced the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros in Epcot. It replaced El Rio del Tiempo as the feature attraction inside the pyramid of the Mexico pavilion.
Like El Rio del Tiempo before it, the Gran Fiesta Tour is a slow moving boat ride. Your trip begins by drifting lazily past a towering pyramid and volcano on one side of the boat, and the elegant San Angel Inn on the other. As a side note, the scent of the delicious food in San Angel Inn may make you want to swim back to shore to eat, but fight the urge. There will be plenty of time after your trip.
As you float on, you’ll finally catch sight of the stars of the show. Not all of them, mind you. Donald is missing, and Jose and Panchito are searching for him. They appear in animated form on video screens set against live action footage. You’ll also catch sight of Donald now and then as he gets into all kinds of mischief. Among the real life Mexican locales you’ll spot in the video segments are the Palacio del Bellas Artes and El Castillo (also known as the Temple of Kukulcan).
Perhaps the most charming part of the attraction comes next. Your boat drifts into an area that looks like it came straight from “it’s a small world.” This isn’t a coincidence. Mary Blair, the artist responsible for much of the iconic look of “it’s a small world,” was one of the artists who travelled to South America during the creation of the films “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros.” The experience helped shape her distinctive artistic style, particularly her use of color. Her style and influence can be seen throughout this area, and she worked to design the audio animatronics which first appeared in El Rio Del Tiempo and were kept for Gran Fiesta.
However, though the attraction opened in 2007, the stars of the show wouldn’t appear in audio animatronic form until 2009. As noted above, that’s when they left Tokyo Disneyland and made their triumphant return to Orlando. Now, they appear near the end of the attraction, singing for the Guests as they float by.
Gran Fiesta is a personal and family favorite. Despite its charm, the attraction seldom has a wait, which means that we almost always ride it more than once. Typically more than twice, and sometimes more than three times. On one memorable occasion, Cast Members didn’t even make us exit our boat at the end. They just sent us around for another ride through.
Now, before we go, lift your voices with mine and we can sing together:
“We’re three caballeros
Three gay caballeros
They say we are birds of a feather
We’re happy amigos
No matter where he goes
The one, two, and three goes
We’re always together…”