Anyone remember Disney’s The Three Caballeros? Released in 1944, it was an anthology of shorts that were linked by an overarching plot involving Donald Duck receiving birthday presents from his Latin-American friends, José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles. I’ve never watched it myself and, from what I understand, it’s not exactly up there in terms of recognisability; it’s biggest contribution simply being the introductions of those aforementioned two characters.
Why am I bringing this up? Because last year, somebody within the company decided they wanted a new animated series based on this movie that would be all about the titular characters travelling the world and encountering various mythological figures and monsters while trying to stop an evil sorcerer from coming back to life… and then make it only available in the Philippines. Yeah, I’m still confused about that last bit. It’s almost as weird as me waiting over half a year to actually write about it when it’s no longer relevant or topical (things kept getting in the way, leave me alone).
Okay, let me explain the show properly. After a pretty crappy birthday that ends with him losing his job, his house and his girlfriend, Donald learns that he has an inheritance from his great-grandfather. Said inheritance turns out to be a pretty run-down cabana that he has to share with ladies man José and daredevil Panchito (whose last name has been changed to Gonzalez because I guess even hearing the word “pistol” will encourage kids to get guns? Censorship can be weird sometimes).
Anyway, the three uncover a magic book in the cabana and upon opening it, release Xandra, the Goddess of Adventure, who tells them that they are the descendants of the Three Caballeros – a trio of heroes who aided Xandra in battling the forces of evil. So, with the added assistance of the cabana’s caretaker, Aria the Aracuan Bird, and Daisy’s triplet nieces (did you know Daisy had nieces?! I didn’t!), the new Three Caballeros must band together and learn to become heroes, whilst their pompous neighbour Sheldgoose works to revive his ancestor – a dreaded sorcerer called Felldrake, who the original Caballeros sealed away inside a staff.
If this all sounds kind of bizarre to you, you’re not the only one. Conceptually, it does seem like a pretty traditional adventure series for kids but having a classic Disney icon in the starring role seems like a rather “out there” choice and something you wouldn’t think a company as protective of its characters as Disney would allow. Maybe it’s because Donald has usually had a lot more freedom to get into these kinds of shenanigans (just look up some of his old comic books or the DuckTales reboot). And I think that freedom extended to the show’s staff as well.
With the whole world and all manner of different mythologies to draw from, the writers pretty much went wild when it came to coming up with all the strange and fantastical elements that our heroes would have to deal with, and it gets delightfully insane. I don’t know how much of what’s here is accurate (pretty sure the World Tree’s got nothing to do with the Roman gods) but it’s enjoyable and always surprising. The third episode involves ancient Egyptian robots on the Moon – yeah, it’s stupid but gloriously so. Not to mention that some of the monsters have a slightly different art-style to make them stand out more. My personal favourite is some giant, stone wolf thing that looks so out of place that it makes it all the more awesome and threatening.
Speaking of the animation, it is weirdly good for a show that probably didn’t have much of a budget to work with. It’s not stylised like the new DuckTales, opting for a more classic feel, at least in regards to the main cast, with even the new original characters like Xandra and Sheldgoose looking like they could’ve easily appeared in a Disney show from the late 90s or very early 2000s. It’s bright and energetic though not to the point where it becomes obnoxious, and some of the backgrounds are almost breathtaking. I hope the animators were paid well because you can tell that there was a lot of love put into their work, especially with how many cool references and nods there are to not only the original film but other Disney cartoons and films.
Another, albeit minor, aspect that I love about the show is that each episode immediately follows on into the next one, with an episode usually ending with Felldrake already plotting a new scheme and essentially teasing the events of the next episode. This means that, for a relatively simple and short show (there’s only 13 episodes), it has a strong adherence to its own continuity, with some characters coming back in later episodes and plot-points often being called back to. It’s a little thing but it’s something I’ve always loved seeing. It’s one of the main reasons why I love other shows like Justice League and Gravity Falls.
As for the cast, well, they’re all pretty enjoyable in their own way. I’m a massive fan of Donald Duck so I was sold already on seeing him take centre stage and become the reluctant hero, managing to overcome the odds via a mixture of dumb luck and his trademark anger, all the while trying to win back Daisy. José and Panchito make for perfect foils, with the former being relaxed and suave and the latter being a bit coo-coo for coco puffs but not annoyingly so. Together, the three make great banter and it’s always interesting to see how they solve an episode’s problem with their… unique skill sets. The inclusion of Daisy’s nieces is a nice change of pace, too, even if the story probably wouldn’t have changed much if it was Donald’s nephews instead.
Xandra’s also a great mentor character, mostly because she subverts a lot of the usual expectations. Yeah, she’s much wiser than the Caballeros and more experienced when it comes to fighting, but she’s not just the “responsible one”, constantly rolling her eyes at their antics. She acts like a crazy fan-girl when meeting the Roman gods, is quite the party animal, is rather quick to violence and sometimes joins in with their shenanigans, acting more like a cool, older sister.
But it’s the villainous duo of Sheldgoose and Felldrake that absolutely steal the show, in my opinion – their constant squabbling is probably my favourite part of any episode. For the most part, Sheldgoose (perfectly voiced by Wayne Knight) is the bumbling fool in way over his head and forced to partake in Felldrake’s heinous schemes and subjected to both physical and verbal abuse from his master, but he demonstrates just as much cunning as Felldrake and is more than willing to fling insults back rather than be a doormat. And Kevin Michael Richardson was clearly having a ball voicing Felldrake, capable of switching between genuinely menacing and hilarious at the drop of a hat. For a dreaded sorcerer, he is incredibly petty and simply revels in being evil, and sometimes that’s all you need from a villain.
It’s a real shame that, at the time of writing, Disney seems to have no plans to promote this show anywhere else in the world, dooming it to be a forgotten cult classic. It may not be game-changing or as emotionally-charged as DuckTales, but it’s just fun to watch. Kids can enjoy the slapstick while kids-at-heart can revel in the nostalgia and the verbal humour. It’s certainly not for everyone but if you’re a fan of Donald and the Caballeros at all and you can somehow get the chance to watch it, I say give it a shot. As for me, I’m gonna pester Disney about it until they make a second season.