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Walt Disney in Argentina: you are my faithful friend

In 1941 the world was at war. And Mouse's dad Mickey became a cog of American foreign policy. And he saved the future Disney empire.

Walt Disney en Argentina

By 1940, the United States had a clear determination that Latin America is more than just a “backyard.” Rockefeller's brand new Coordination of Inter-American Affairs (CIAA) modeled the so-called “good neighbors” policy, which was inspired by the famous Monroe Doctrine, America for Americans. Neighbors clear to resist the eventual Nazi attack, a foresight nothing reckless with the skies of London burning, and half Europe in the hands of German tyranny . In that scheme, Argentina was the main stone discola. Never did Argentines, and many Latin Americans, by the way, feel comfortable at the same table as the Americans, from the run over the  Falkland Islands  in 1832, and the Union's endless military interventions on the continent, and that increased a strong anti-Yankee sentiment. That's why Secretary Hull and President Roosevelt tried a paradigm shift, not only for Argentina, and instead of sending politicians, they would send artists .  And the main star ambassador would be Walt Disney, who with his films had penetrated the hearts and minds of millions.   It was the time the mouse dressed like a cat.

Walt Disney arrived in the country at the end of the winter of 1941, at the second stop after Brazil, fulfilling a proposal of the Washington highs, which he had first rejected. At home, the picture was complicated. In Burbank he faced a prolonged union dispute, and losses in the chambers grew with the world terrified of the German war machine. Walt, who had revolutionized animation and the market with “Snow White” and was paralyzed with “Dumbo”, about to release “Pinocchio” and “Fantasy”, then rushed to put together a group of 18 people, including his wife Lilian, among illustrators, producers, musicians and cinematographers. The original plan was the production of twelve short films and, “- the journey of Disney - constituted a substantial gesture of goodwill, a film based on the journey will be the greatest gesture of flattery for the rest of the American republics, and will emphasize the common ties that unite the people of the Americas . At a time when continental solidarity is of the utmost importance, this film will provide a persuasive demonstration of our good wishes seen in action. These types of unifying factors, such as those in this film, are essential to the morality of civilians both in our country and in the rest of the Americas,” quotes Laura Vázquez, from documentation sent to the State Department by Disney Studios, and collected from Disney's archives by Fernando Purcell.

The American filmmaker and businessman stepped in Argentina on September 8, 1941, and will be the country where Walt and “El Grupo” remain longest, as they called Disney and his team, between Buenos Aires, Salta and Mendoza. The Argentine phase of the “Good Neighbor Policy”, and one of the priorities, was underway.  They occupy one floor of the Alvear Palace Hotel and perform countless recreational activities, as well as protocol and journalistic interviews, following the State Department's roadmap. That is to carry out the diplomatic object in parallel to the artistic object.  Immediately in the country Disney comes into contact with the effervescent national media, “Our comic book magazines publish one hundred and fifty million copies per year! There is no country in the world that surpasses us in this line. Hence the importance for Argentine cartoonists of everything that is related to this activity that has become another characteristic production of the country. [...]  When Walt Disney was in Buenos Aires he was surprised when I introduced him to almost three hundred Argentine cartoonists. “ I didn't suspect finding such a big spotlight, and I doubt New York will overcome it ,” he said, “Ramon Columba recalled . Disney also meets an artist he deeply admired,  Quirino Cristiani,  author of the first animated feature film “El apostol” of 1917 -before many others, including Disney, of course, and who will I would recommend a cartoonist to better represent the field and its essence,  Florencio Molina Campos. Disney, which was at its artistic peak, obviously already knew the Argentine cartoonist for his advertising work around the world, and a series of successful exhibitions in North America, with his bucolic gauchesca prints in 1937. And he makes a call to the stay of the Molina Campos, Los Estribos in Moreno, province of Buenos Aires, which will be the beginning of a long friendship and, also, a great disencounter.  

Walt Disney in Argentina


 Two giants greet each other: Molina Campos and Disney  

The first short circuit will be because when one came, the other was in his house. Molina Campos had been hired by a New York advertising company and was in the Big Apple.  Walt had called the stay one morning and Florencio's wife, Elvira Molina Campos, informed him that his partner was in the United States but would gladly welcome the creator of Mickey Mouse . So the large entourage went west of the conurbano and spent a picnic, between Argentinian meat and mate in hand, as you can see in the report of “Argentine Succesos” “They arrived at the ranch, Disney and his lady, accompanied by the Ambassador of the United States and the whole    staff of his many cartoonists. It was an unforgettable Creole party: roasts, guitarreadas, dances... all that was missing was Florencio,” Elvira wrote in his book “Florencio Molina Campos en mi vida”, according to Juan Batalla transcribed on   That same day Disney left a letter with the intention of adding Molina Campos in this project that turned into celluloid the North American policy of “Good Friends”  

In those moments the tension between Buenos Aires and Washington reached a peak because of the desire of the Americans to install bases in Uruguay, with the still fresh memory of the  Battle of the R & iacute; or de la Plata.   And the government of interim president Castillo was beginning to tighten the historic “neutralism”, in the face of the unrest of the Roosvelt administration that launched a Continental Defense plan.  Pearl Harbor's a couple of months. This was the context of Disney in Argentina.  

Walt Disney in Argentina

Molina Campos's thing could only be realized in 1942 for the advice of three films, although he only collaborated tangentially in the short films “El gaucho Goofy -or Dippy as it was known at that time” (1942) and “El gauchito volador” (1944), “los gauchos socarrones que se they make fun of gauchito and his donkey ear are undoubtedly derived from those who populated the almanacs of Alpargatas for years,” says researcher Raúl Manrupe.  And we say tangentially because Molina Campos's disgust was enormous for the little likelihood of gaucho Goofy, a hybrid between Mexican and Texan related to the American mentality. The winds had changed.   The United States was in full world conflict in Europe and Asia, and necessarily exalted domestic nationalism, stopped being interested in continental relations — especially with this country, and trade between nations was interrupted, when in 1941 the United States was the main buyer - and, on the front diplomat, the nationalist turn prior to the 1943 coup in Argentina, with sympathies to the powers of the Axis, put in hot parentheses any rapprochement.  So no “persuasive demonstration” or “goodwill” had to be fulfilled now. In addition, the union conflict in Disney studios had been overcome with a determined federal intervention after the trip to South America, and even though it gave in part to the claims work of the cartoonists, Walt came out strengthened.   Finally, the US government's requests for propaganda short films — which are hardly found today on the official channels of the giant del Raton. This was a third short film with Latin American theme, and with the advice of Molina Campos, in the inkwell. And Florencio returned to his stay from Moreno tired, with his tender gauchitos.


 Disney in Argentina by Sucesos Argentinos 


 What Disney left us, and we left Walt 

“The short films were merged into two major productions — “Saludos Amigos (1943)”, nominated for three Oscars, and “The Three Caballeros” (1944) - Tell the adventure as a logbook also had its return. Disney and his company made the  most of the journey through Latin America: not only recorded, filmed and directed the animations, but also published comic strips narrating the trip, documentary films were made whose cast was made up of the entourage, photographs were sold to magazines and newspapers and published books about the risky company. After all, the political and cultural mission was also a good deal ,” says researcher Laura Vázquez. Disney himself assured that in the hotel rooms they had a real “shop” that allowed immediate marketing and dissemination, and later, of the Disney tour. Walt improvising a chacarera with the ensemble of Andrés Chazarreta, and the dancer Miguel Gramajo, among them, were the inspirations of the short films. “Disney was very excited during the malambo,” recalled “Tachuela” Gramajo decades later that afternoon on the terraces of the Alvear. In the documentary “South of the Border” (1942) Disney stated with the mission accomplished: “The visit resulted in a better understanding of the art, music, folklore and humor of our Latin American friends, and rich material and source of inspiration for future animated stories” &  We greet all South America/Where the sky is always blue/We greet all the friends of the heart/We leave there, whom we remember to sing this song” was the lyrics that opened the film “Greetings Friends” in a perfect synthesis of a tour that a& uacute; not art, and high-level diplomacy, under Walt's charism.  

Walt Disney in Argentina

Before continuing to travel to Chile in the middle of an exhausting tour, among officials and fans, thousands of autographs,  Disney went through Mendoza and went incognito to a classroom full of students. In the end they announced that among them there was a special guest and Walt appeared with a “Hello, boys” for children's delirium . At that time he learned about his father Elias's death and, with only a few days in Santiago, Chile, they returned to the United States by boat on October 4, 1941. Before part of “El Grupo” had traveled Bolivia and Peru, which would inspire Donald's short film on Lake Titicaca.

All this Latin American experience can be weighted in the documentary “Walt & el Grupo” (2008), which analyzes the journey in context. Its director, Ted Thomas, explains the creative impact it had on Walt and its positive consequences for business continuity: “The trip to Latin American countries, and the films that were made following it, saved Disney studios. World War II, economic problems and work-related clashes between artists, all combined, could have forced Disney to close.  The Latin experience revived him artistically. Many of the friends that emerged on this trip lasted for the rest of his life,” closes filmmaker Thomas, including Molina Campos . Something confirmed on the website , which contains the following words from Disney, “one of those things thought was that Disney needed the subsidy -from the government and made the trip to South America -  but fortunately that little trip made a great business, and the US government did not have to contribute a penny.”  


There is still the story of his visit in 1952 to the inauguration of the Republic of Children in La Plata and, at the age of three, the opening of Disneyland in California, with such a similar design of urbanism on children's scale, and which would continue to be a source of suspicions. Also a visit in 1945 to southern Argentina, before the famous “Bambi”, and prolonged stays in its woods of myrtle trees, pencil in hand.  Don Walt had a strong cultural bond with Argentina since his professional beginnings, with a second short film, “The Gallopin' Gaucho” from 1928, and a Mickey proto walking in rhea.   And he always admired the Argentinian animators and cartoonists, the “Argentine drawing school”, from Cristiani to Daniel Branca, creator of one of the best Donald Duck.  The “If you can dream it, you can do it”, the motto of Disney, also dreamed of mate, and roast - in hand.  


 Greetings Friends (1943) - The Gaucho Goofy (fragment) 


Sources: Manrupe, R.  Brief history of cartoon in Argentina . Buenos Aires: Books of Rojas. 2004;  Vazquez, L . “A model to imitate: Disney in Ezeiza and the business project of Dante Quinterno” In magazine Antiteses v. 5, n.9, p.7-24, jan. /Jul. 2012; ; ; Petersen, H.  Argentina and the United States. II 1914-1960.   Buenos Aires: Hyspamerica. 1985

Walt Disney in Argentina

Publication Date: 09/04/2021

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We suggest you continue reading the following notes:

Molina-Campos-exposición Molina Campos: an exhibition to get to know him
Nos vemos en Disney See you at Disney



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