March 12, 2021 posted by Jim Korkis

Return of “The Three Caballeros”

Suspended Animation #310

Eric Goldberg is a talented animator, voice actor and director. While his work as the lead animator on the Genie in Disney’s animated feature Aladdin (1992) definitely stands out, he has contributed memorable animation to Louis the jazz playing alligator in The Princess and the Frog (2009) and Maui’s tattoos in Moana (2016) among many, many other characters.

However, there hasn’t been a lot of work for talented Disney animators like Goldberg which is why Disney has also used him on Disney parks projects like supplying animation for Mickey Mouse on Nighttime Spectaculars including Disney Gifts of Christmas And Celebrate! for Tokyo Disneyland and the We Love Mickey projection show in Hong Kong Disneyland.

In 2019, Goldberg was responsible for creating a new character for a night time Halloween season overlay of Disney’s California Adventure World of Color fireworks and water projection show called Villainous!

Goldberg created “Shelley Marie” (a play on the name “Mary Shelley” the author of Frankenstein) who is a nine-year-old girl who’s trying to decide whether to be a princess or a villain for Halloween and in the process interacts with some of the classic Disney animated villains.

Goldberg said he was inspired by the characters of Wednesday Addams in the Addams Family and Lydia in Beetlejuice. While Shelley Marie is done in CGI, the other characters who are villains like Maleficient were done in hand-drawn animation.

Goldberg’s “Shelley Marie”

“She has the vulnerabilities of a little girl, but she’s got this side to her,” Goldberg says, alluding to her feeling alienated and having an interest in the darker, weirder aspects of culture. “I think characters like that are very interesting. It puts me in the mind of Lilo from Lilo & Stich. She’s an adorable character but can’t help herself from acting out. Shelley is like that. She doesn’t do anything wantonly evil, but she has this thing pulsing in her DNA.”

However, for me, the most impressive animation Goldberg has done for the Disney parks is bringing back the fabled Three Caballeros.

The leisurely boat ride in the Mexican pavilion in Epcot’s World Showcase was titled El Rio del Tiempo (“The River of Time”) that took visitors through the history and culture of Mexico from Mayan high priests to modern merchants.

That often ignored attraction was transformed in April 2007 into the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros.

The new storyline was that guests would still enjoy a boat tour experiencing the arts, culture and history of Mexico, as well as some of the famous modern day resorts and locales. However, the tour hits a snag when Panchito and Jose Carioca discover their amigo, Donald Duck, has gone sightseeing in Mexico on the very day the famous Three Caballeros are to perform a reunion concert in Mexico City.

In charge of this new theme park attraction reuniting the Three Cabelleros from the beloved animated feature film of the same name was director George Scribner (who was also director of Mickey’s PhilharMagic) and animation director Eric Goldberg.

“We always thought the Three Caballeros would be perfect for the Mexico pavilion,” said Goldberg, who directed the new animation. “And it’s a great way to introduce the Disney characters to the Epcot pavilions and keep them within the context of the travel and tourism story of the World Showcase.”

The new film elements are a combination of traditional character animation, overlaid onto film clips of live background footage newly filmed in Mexico that are projected onto a series of screens framed by dimensional walls, arches and rockwork to set the scenes.

The Theme Park Productions team spent six weeks in Acapulco, Chitchen Itza and Mexico City to get the footage for the new film, and they cast local talent for some of the smaller roles where Donald interacts with actors.

Goldberg is proud that he was able to utilize the same color palettes, model sheets, stylistic design and graphic elements as in the original theatrical feature when he chronicled Donald’s escapades through Mexico including encounters with a baby octopus and beautiful live-action women.

“Drawing these characters is a joy. They’ve got the best animated design I’ve ever worked on. They almost leapt off the page,” Goldberg told famed Disney musicologist Greg Ehrbar, a writer for this site.” “My lead animator, Bert Klein, and I were just trying to channel Ward (Kimball) and Freddy (Moore) who created some of the most beautiful, fluid and funny Disney animation ever.”

When Donald tries to climb the Mayan pyramid and it turns into an escalator, that sequence was animation done personally by Goldberg, as well as the sequence where Donald dives off the cliff in Acapulco and bounces around like in a pinball machine.

“There are alternate gags, too,” Goldberg said. “You might not always see the same show twice. You might see two gags as Donald is going up the escalator in Chitchen Itza: in the restaurant scene and the cliff dive scene.”

The reason the color is so vivid is that Goldberg’s wife, Susan, as animation art director worked hard to capture the distinct Technicolor look, while Scott Johnson created special lighting for the characters. When Chris Biggs processed the live action with the animation, he used a special technique to get that really bright color.

Musical director for the project was John Dennis who brought in music arranger Richard Bellis to create an homage to the original song. The music was recorded at Capitol Records in Hollywood, California where Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland recorded. It helped recreate the unique sound of the time period.

The new attraction officially opened April 7, 2007 at 11 a.m. to good reviews from the guests. The attraction is reminiscent of the old “C” Ticket attractions at the original Fantasyland in Disneyland where the entire family could experience the ride together.

Rob Paulsen, perhaps best known for his voice work as Pinky in Pinky and the Brain (although he has done voice work for Disney as well including Pete’s son P.J. Pete), supplies the voices for Jose Carioca and Panchito. Tony Anselmo is Donald.

There are some wonderful scenic touches to the attraction including plenty of papel picado (traditional clipped tissue paper flags), some representing Donald, Jose and Panchito.

Some purists complain that in the new animation, Jose does not smoke his cigar and Panchito does not fire off his pistols as they do in their original film, but I feel that is a minor concession to political correctness in order to see these animated characters together again.


  • With all due respect to Aladdin’s Genie, as far as I’m concerned Eric Goldberg’s magnum opus is the “Rhapsody in Blue” segment from Fantasia 2000. It’s not only the design and the animation of the piece, it’s the way he captures the yearnings of four different characters and intertwines their stories, all without altering a single note of Gershwin’s music. A masterpiece.

    I’m not terribly fussed about Jose Carioca’s missing cigar in the new Three Caballeros animation (though it would be another matter entirely if it were deleted from his original films of the forties). A lot of us used to smoke but no longer do. Sometimes, if you want to stick around in this world, you have to give up the things that are bad for you.

    • I totally agree with you, Goldberg’s peak is Rhapsody in Blue, no doubt.

  • The Grand Fiesta Tour is my favorite ride in Epcot. I discovered it when I first went to Walt Disney World in 2010.

  • I have a huge fondness for the things that are bad for me. At 14 I and a friend found three big bottles of wine behind and under the back door of a church that forbade alcohol. Altho we were underage we took someone’s (several someones I imagine) sin upon ourselves that Sunday. When my mother asked where I got it and I told her, she said, “You’re lying!”

    The first time I ran SALUDOS AMIGOS and THE THREE CABALLEROS I was stunned by the graphic design. Wow!!!!

    Maybe the artists got contact highs in the clubs they hung out at while doing research.

    A few years ago I was gifted with DMT. I was told that while it only lasts ten minutes those ten minutes feel like eternity. They do. The thing that most fascinated me was that everything I experienced (the ultra vivid colors, the shapes, EVERYTHING) was exactly as we see in South American art including the vivid colors and design in these two films.

    I’m not happy with the world the kids are inheriting. I like my cartoon characters smoking cigars when that is true to their character.

    More and more people are going to be saying one thing in church and doing another as fast as they can as soon as they can. My buddy and I won’t be here much longer to save them. Neat post.

  • I could have sworn Carlos Alarzaqui voiced Panchito for this ride as he did for House of Mouse a few years earlier

  • Thanks for the article, and the link to the video, especially since it’s one where the boats were apparently backed up a bit and they got to record the entire loop (and then some).

    It should be noted that the finale animation has been replaced with reconditioned animatronics of the trio that were stored after the Mickey Mouse Revue show was closed many years ago.

  • I notice no one has brought up, or probably caught, “LEGEND OF THE THREE CABALLEROS”, a 13-episode miniseries action-adventure produced for Disney television. I’m not sure if the series ran on Disney XD or The Disney Channel, but it is currently on Disney Plus streaming. In well-executed traditional 2D style (no doubt with some computer help, but by no means attempting to render the characters as Pixar might), the show presents surprisingly full and fluid animation, and quite a lot of shadowing/modeling on the character’s features, along with lush backgrounds, and a large supporting cast – instead of spreading their dollars over 24 episodes, Disney packed its wallop into 13 action packed installments to render something memorable.

    It plays as if one of the best of the “Disney Afternoon” projects in its heyday, with production values that couldn’t have been afforded in those early days. I haven’t kept track of who’s doing the voices, but it sound like Anselmo as Donald again, and at least one of the villains of the piece (an evil spirit trapped in a magical staff) is definitely voiced by Jim Cummings – making the Disney Afternoon connection even stronger. Tress McNeill seems to be back also as Daisy. New surprise regulars include the first animated appearances of Daisy’s nieces, April, May, and June, who for once get to upstage and replace the usual berths for the nephews, as a sort of tech-support and back-up team (much in the way Wade was to Kim Possible), communicating with our heroes through two-way magic mirrors on their adventures, and sometimes coming along for the ride for an adventure or two of their own. A nice and welcome return is made by the Aracuan Bird, as eccentric as ever, now in the position of the caretaker (?) of Donald’s inherited estate, with an iron-clad, “you can’t fire me” contract.

    And even Humphrey Bear returns, reprising his masquerade as a very-live bearskin rug from “Rugged Bear” in several series episodes, A new human heroine – an ancestral guard of a magic atlas chronicling historic battles between good and evil, and reachable through the book’s pages found in the estate’s dusty library, is the central guide and sort of “rallying cry” to unite the Caballeros, as the modern counterparts of a trio of ancient conquistadors who battled to victory centuries ago – though our current heroes have never lifted sword or other weaponry in their lives. Some training is obviously in order, leading the trio to visit many lands and many eras through the assistance of the atlas, then on to an epic battle to evil’s current face in the form of the staff-bound spirit and a snooty henchman who happens to be Donald’s next door-neighbor and the chairman of the neighborhood betterment association, The writing is performed with comedic verve always first over dramatic action, portraying our heroes in the proper light we love to see them in, no matter how off-the-wall and exotic the “DuckTales – like” situations might be. All in all, it’s a surprising ride, and certainly exhibits the studio putting their backs into something – a characteristic that’s been far too long missed in their television product, and pretty nearly a return to the TV units’ “golden days”.

  • I have forgotten that Jose Carioca smoked cigars, but it would be nice if Pancho Pistolas had guns in holsters even if he never draws them. Oh well, at least they didn’t make him carry cellphones on his holsters or some dumb thing like that. Eric Goldberg is one of the last great Disney animators so if somenone can make Donald, Pancho and Jose justice its him.
    I particularly like the portable hole gag and seeing them flying. Rob Paulsen also makes a good job as Pancho and Jose.

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