Song of the Week #7- "Saludos Amigos"
The Great Oscar Baiter is back, folks! Yes, between school, the holiday seasons and 2021 being so very 2021, I’ve been on an unplanned (but frankly much-needed) hiatus. But just because I’ve been away doesn’t mean the Oscar Baiting has stopped, as much of that time has been filled with catching up on movies both old and new. And one of those movies contains our next Song of the Week, the theme song from Saludos Amigos.
Of the sixty entries in the Disney Animated Canon, Saludos Amigos might very well be one of the weirdest. Not the worst, mind you- it's no Black Cauldron- but it's definitely weird. For starters, it hardly counts as a movie. At only forty-two minutes long, it could arguably be considered a short film rather than a feature. I, however, do not count it as such, for two very important reasons. Firstly, in our first Song of the Week I claimed that Wet Blanket Policy was the only short film to receive a nomination for Best Original Song, and I don't want to make a liar out of myself. But more than that, Saludos Amigos isn't really a short because it's more accurately a collection of shorts strung together, connected loosely by a theme. This was a pretty common practice for Disney at the time, with the studio churning out cheap package films like Melody Time, Make Mine Music or Fun and Fancy Free. They were sort of like Fantasia without the sweeping ambition. Saludos Amigos was produced as part of Walt Disney's Goodwill Tour through Latin America, itself part of the Roosevelt Administration's attempt to improve diplomatic relations between the U.S. and the countries of Central and South America. The film has been credited as a decent success in that department, especially in changing perceptions of countries like Brazil and Argentina in the US. In addition to that, the film also managed to score three Oscar nominations- Best Sound, Best Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Original Song, for its theme song "Saludos Amigos."
Truth be told, the story behind the making of Saludos Amigos is far more interesting than actually watching Saludos Amigos, which is really just a smattering of vaguely amusing cartoons and some interesting live action segments. It's certainly more interesting than talking about the theme song, a fairly generic opening credits number. Regular readers will remember that I rather enjoy these types of songs when they're well done. They're sort of the film equivalent of an overture, letting the audience know what kind of film they're in for. And in that regard, "Saludos Amigos" is an unmitigated success. Because just like how Saludos Amigos is barely a movie, "Saludos Amigos" is barely a song. It's clocks in at just over a minute long, and the actual singing takes up about only twenty seconds of it. It might as well just be instrumental score! Ned Washington's lyrics are wholly unremarkable, as is the music by Charles Wolcott. This might not be a huge shock from Wolcott, whose only other Oscar nominations came from his work on Disney obscurities like Song of the South and this film's followup, The Three Caballeros. But it is rather a surprise coming from Ned Washington, who had far more success. He wrote "Baby Mine" from Dumbo and won two Oscars for his work on Pinocchio. Hell, he wrote the lyrics for our last Song of the Week! (Coincidentally, I also rewatched High Noon during my hiatus; still a great movie!) One never wants to make assumptions about an artist's work ethic, but I think it's safe to say that "Saludos Amigos" probably didn't receive a whole lot of effort.
It's honestly amazing that this song managed to score a nomination. Maybe the Academy wanted to nominate "Aquarelo do Brasil" instead, only to discover that the song actually wasn't original to the movie and scrambled to find something eligible. It's certainly from a far more memorable part of the film than the rather bland, poorly drawn opening titles. (The animation in Saludos Amigos is largely fine, but not up to the usual Disney standard, thanks mostly to the strike at the studio forcing Disney to work with scabs.) Saludos Amigos was released in 1942, just a year after the Academy required that the songs nominated for Best Original Song had to be, you know, original, so I suppose it's possible. This was also the year in which the Academy nominated Hellzapoppin' for the song "Pig Foot Pete", in spite of the fact that "Pig Foot Pete" actually appeared in the film Keep 'Em Flying, which was released a whole year earlier. Especially in the days before the Internet, it seems entirely plausible that the Academy simply didn't know the song submitted to them for Saludos Amigos WASN'T one of the longer, more interesting songs from later in the movie.
And yet, despite it all, I have to admit I kind of like this one. I think it's because I have a soft spot for opening credits songs from old Disney movies. All those songs kind of blend together for me- I dare you to hum the theme to Alice in Wonderland immediately before humming the theme to Peter Pan- but they had their own kind of charm. I certainly prefer "Saludos Amigos" to Disney's other nominated song from that year, Bambi's "Love is a Song." I don't know, blame it on nostalgia. At any rate, the song didn't win, and because Best Original Song had a staggering ten nominees in those days, it didn't really steal anyone's slot. And in a rare case of the Academy making the objectively right decision, the song that DID take home the gold that year was "White Christmas" from Holiday Inn, a film which probably would have been Song of the Week if I'd been around in December. (Well that or "Baby It's Cold Outside", because I'm addicted to sweet, sweet discourse.) Maybe this year. Holiday Inn's kind of a weird movie, too. And if we're kicking off 2022 with a film like Saludos Amigos, "weird" might be a theme for us!
Have any suggestions for the next Short of the Week? Contact me on Twitter via @NoahGoucher!
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