Walt Disney’s The Three Caballeros (1945) is one of my favorite Disney features – mainly because it’s the least “Disney” animated feature Disney ever made. It’s an “anti-Disney” Disney film, with a “Tex Avery” take on Donald Duck (if not the Aracuan Bird). I love it. Forget Fantasia or Alice In Wonderland – The Three Caballeros the closest thing to an acid trip the studio ever produced.
So imagine my surprise as a young Disney enthusiast – way back when, in an era before VCRs, VHS, DVDs, You Tube or Netflix, in the Summer of 1976 – I saw this flyer (below) for a Disney festival playing at my local neighborhood single-screen movie theatre.
Each week another double bill of Disney animated classics and live action reissues. Cool! Hey wait, what’s that on August 27th? – The Three Caballeros?? I couldn’t believe my eyes. I had already seen a 16mm print of Three Caballeros and it blew my mind. Now, I’d have the opportunity to see it in 35mm, numerous times, at my local theatre. Hooray!
So imagine my surprise when I went to theatre, grabbed a big bucket of popcorn and started watching what turned out to be an edited version of the film. Edited to 41 minutes (from its original 71 minute length) – 30 minutes missing!
It was a strange edit; It was really a shortened version. They snipped parts from the entire film. Edits were made to The Flying Gauchito, from Pablo the Penguin, From the trip to Brazil and Baia, to Mexico and to the songs. The whole film was there but in truncated form. I was pissed – to say the least.
There was nothing in the advertisements or the newly designed one-sheet poster (see thumbnails below, click to enlarge) about this edited version. I expected the whole movie. Boy, I was mad – and in the first (and so-far only) time in my life, I called the studio to complain (we didn’t have blogs back then to vent outrage)! I had no connections to Disney, nor any idea who to call – but I decided to phone the local Buena Vista distribution office in New York.
I found them listed in the phone book and eventually got through to an executive there. He listened to my complaint, told me there was nothing he could do about it – and that he wasn’t even aware it was an edited version (he was clueless about the original film, which at the time was over 30 years old and hadn’t been reissued before). He gave me his word he’d register my complaint to the higher authorities. I had done my duty and felt good that I’d struck a blow for the cause of Disney history.
Five months later, on January 21st 1977, Disney released this reissue double-bill to theaters across America:
Again, you’ll notice that there is no reference to The Three Caballeros being edited – its implied that its a double feature, of two full-length movies. Before I could get too excited that perhaps my complaint was taken to heart and they were now releasing the whole film – I noticed three words added to the lobby card and in the newspaper ads: “In Featurette Form”
I guess they did hear me. So instead of scrapping the release of the featurette version, they simply decided to let people know – no matter how subtle.
What bothered me about the “featurette version” was that it was such an unsatisfying edit. If you were going to chop out 30 minutes, I think I’d have started by removing the first 20 minutes (bye-bye Gauchito and Pablo) and try to keep most of the Donald-Jose-Panchito material intact.
What a mess it was. Luckily, the 1976-edit is buried in vaults with no reason to even return. Below is the final remnants of this re-release disaster, the one-sheet and press book from 1977. The last remaining evidence of an ill-concieved effort to pass off a 1940s classic as a mere short subject reissue (click thumbnails to enlarge):