About the Column

For years, Jeff Heimbuch has been writing about Disney. Many of his articles have appeared in Celebrations Magazine. But Jeff has always had a little '626' inside him anxious to come out. Unlike his column's namesake, Stitch, he might not paint the Castle blue, but he will paint the park red with entertaining stories, fascinating insights, and daring ... experiments.

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FROM: The 626 Published Fridays

The Four Caballeros and the Cuban Carnival

Ay carumba! Jeff Heimbuch, the Fifth Caballero, sheds light on the mysterious Miguelito Maracas, the avian, cigar-chomping plantation owner from pre-Castro Cuba whom Disney 'discovered' in the 1940s but because of politics never became a star.

As I discussed a few weeks ago in my column about Jose Carioca, The Three Caballeros is my favorite Disney animated film. I enjoy the (slightly skewed) history of each country we get from the animated segments and the antics of the The Three Caballeros as they travel around Latin America.

I mentioned in my Jose Carioca article that Don Rosa wrote two sequels to the film, in 2000 and 2005, respectively, though nothing ever came of them. However, that wasn't the first time a sequel to the film was mounted.

South of the Border Cinema

Remember that the films Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros came out of Walt Disney's good will trip to South America. The U.S. government hoped Walt could help stem the rising tide of Nazism in that area during World War 2, so they commissioned him, along with 16 of his animators, artists, and writers, to visit South American countries on their behalf. The idea was to include South American themes in upcoming films to help steer those countries away from the Axis powers.

When Saludos Amigos premiered in 1943, it did well in the U.S. and in Latin America, especially in those countries that were showcased in the film. However, some South American countries complained that they weren't represented at all. The complaints led to the release of 1945's The Three Caballeros, which featured some countries that weren't included in the original film.

But still, there were complaints. Especially from Cuba.

click an image to expand:


The Fourth Caballero Steals the Spotlight


A Big Cigar for a Small Bird


Reporting for Duty, President Batista.


Castro? Never Heard of Him, Sir.


What Red Star on My Hat?


With These Bongos Who Needs Cigars?

Cuban Carnival

Many people forget that, back then, Cuba was still a popular tourist destination. It wouldn't be until the 1960s that a strengthening embargo would choke tourism. But during the 1940s, our relations with Cuba were still good. In fact, much Cuban industry and land were owned by United States interests, and many locally popular nightclubs and casinos were allegedly under the control of mobsters from the United States.

With such strong ties to the U.S., Cuba had every right to voice their opinion about not being represented in either of Walt's films. So, Disney considered a THIRD compilation film, tentatively titled Cuban Carnival.

Another, lesser known research trip was had in 1944, focusing specifically on Cuba. While the 1941 trip to South America (documented in the fantastic film Walt & El Grupo) was for a much longer period of time, this short jaunt to Cuba lasted only from September to October. Traveling along this time was a much smaller group, including Norm Ferguson, Chuck Wolcott, and Bill Cottrell, all three of whom had been on the previous trip, and newcomers such as artist Fred Moore and writer Homer Brightman.

Disney's Cockfighting Rooster

After the trip, Cuban Carnival began to take shape. Disney wanted the new film, like the previous films, to feature a bird character that would represent the country. Popular opinion was that a 'guajiro' would fill this role. Guajiro was another name for rooster often used in cockfights. The Cubans suggested the character be a 'kikirigui,' which was almost the same as the brave cockfighting rooster, except they were smaller and considered themselves tough, when in reality they were not. The name was also used as an insult in heated arguments between Cubans!

This may seem like an odd choice for the inspiration behind a character that was supposed to bolster good will between the US and Cuba, but it was decided that Disney's magic touch would make the character loveable. Fred Moore was assigned the task of creating this new caballero in the hope that his previous work on The Three Little Pigs and his re-design of Mickey Mouse would help bring life to the battling bird, which never had an official name, though Norm Ferguson was partial to calling him Miguelito Maracas.

The Fall of Cuban Carnival

Moore drew some sketches, but nothing was ever finalized. In fact, along with Moore's drawings, the brief story concepts that were developed for the new film were never set in stone. One sequence supposedly would have included Donald and Jose becoming friends with this fourth addition to their team when they paid him a visit at the plantation he owned. From there, the Cuban bird would have taken his new cohorts on a tour of Cuba.

Mary Blair, who took her own personal research trip to Cuba before this new incarnation of El Grupo, did some story board sketches of carnival scenes, including cock fights, carnival celebrations, tobacco leaves that rolled themselves into cigars, and Jose dancing with a line of cigars. However, none of these things ever came to fruition.

The end of the war opened up new foreign markets for Disney films, allowing them to expand their horizons. The Good Will program, no longer needed after the war ended, was defunded and closed its doors. That, and the fact that The Three Caballeros had lost money, are contributing factors to why Cuban Carnival was never produced.

So, for now, we are left with nothing but a few brief pieces of concept art to show for the film. But who knows? Much like the other unproduced sequels, perhaps this fourth Cuban Caballero will make his appearance one day, and take his place amongst his three other fine feathered friends!

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