Friday, August 1, 2008
Donald Duck Sees South America
Way back in the Forties, the United States was pursuing the "Good Neighbor Policy" with South America. As part of the effort, the Walt Disney studios produced The Three Cabelleros and this little book. It was all to promote tourism, good feelings, and trade between the continents, and keep hostile European forces from getting a hold in the area. Along the way it is a very educational and entertaining look at a continent.
No doubt it was this educational content that led to its inclusion in the library at McQueeney Elementary School. Thirty-five years after its publication it was there, and one of the most eagerly sought after reads over all the grades, because of its ties with Disney, which made it seem more entertaining than the rest of the fare. Over the years we've all kept our eyes open for a copy, whenever we're at a garage sale or used book store.
E-bay strikes again. This Tuesday my copy arrived, and I spent an entranced afternoon poring over it once more. The brilliant color illustrations, the generous line drawing marginalia, are all I remember them to be. The adventures of the neophyte traveller Donald as voyages across South America, his footsteps dogged by the condescending know-it-all Mr. Whelpley, his accommodations always being bumped by the superior importance of El Presidente de la Comision de la America Latina, but always helped by the friendly and hospitable Latin Americans (especially the parrot Jose Carioca), until he ends up a seasoned, feted hero, are still engaging.
Some parts of the book are a little dated in their sensibilities (of course you would expect it to be dated in it's fact; it is after all more than 65 years old). In Peru Donald partakes in a little touristy grave-robbing to get a funerary pot to take home with him, and in a condor hunt, with the express purpose to dispose of the "vicious" condors. But, autres temps, autres moeurs.
It is Donald's impetuous, vain, but generous character that emerges in the story that makes it so endearing. His valiant attempts to eat an exotic meal after being mocked by Mr. Whelply for ordering a ham sandwich would put Anthony Bourdain to shame. His impulsive purchase of a kinkajou set up a pet-desire in us boys that lasted for years. After stepping off his canoe and falling down fifty waterfalls when he thinks his guide has said the water was shallow, he decides to learn Spanish in Uruguay, hires fifty tutors to teach him, learns it in three weeks, then finds out that Portuguese is the language in Uruguay. Adventure follows adventure till Donald has earned serious experience points, and ends up rescuing Mr. Whelply in the Amazon, where the know-it-all has amnesia. Donald has the pleasure of re-educating him with all that he now knows about South America, and his hero status allows him to bump El Presidente for his plane seat home.