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We watched Walt and El Grupo the other night. It was a very interesting movie. If you haven’t heard of this documentary, it is about Walt Disney and a group of his employees (and some of their wives), that went on a three month trip to South America in the late summer early fall of 1941. They spent many weeks in Brazil, some time in Argentina and five days in Chile. The trip was a goodwill tour for the United States Government (who then subsidized the films that were made from the trip). Also included on the DVD is the original version of Saludos Amigos. This was one of the two films made from the trip. The other was The Three Caballeros. The influence from this trip that was made almost seventy years ago now can still be seen throughout Walt Disney World. So, today I present to you the Unknown Magic of the South American Goodwill trip taken by Walt Disney.

The easiest place to see the influence of this trip is in Epcot’s Mexico Pavilion. A few years back, the Mexico Pavilion was refurbished and when they had reopened the El Rio de Tiempo (The River of Time) boat ride, it had changed into Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros. This boat ride features José Carioca and Panchito Pistoles looking throughout Mexico for Donald Duck. Donald and José originally were together in Saludos Amigos. And Panchito joined them in The Three Caballeros. The influence of the South American trip can be seen throughout this fun part of the Mexico Pavilion.

Of the eighteen people that went on the South American Trip, one wasn’t originally invited. Her name was Mary Blair. Mary’s husband Lee (an artist for Disney) was handpicked by Walt to be part of the traveling party. Mary was upset by this and her husband told her to “go to Mr. Disney” and plead her case. She did and it was probably one of the best decisions from that trip that Walt made for his company. The reason I say this is because after this trip, Mary Blair became one of the artists that would become one of Walt’s favorites. They say that her style changed because of the influence of this trip. Mary Blair’s artistic talents are such a part of the Walt Disney World Resort that she even has her name on a window on Main Street USA (which is how people whom were influential in building the Magic Kingdom were honored.)

The South American trip’s impact on Mary Blair can be seen in the Contemporary Resort. On the Grand Canyon Concourse, also known as the 4th floor, there is a seventy foot mural painted on a huge pillar in the middle of the floor. This Mosaic was made by Mary Blair, before the Contemporary opened in 1971. Some thirty years after her trip with Walt Disney and the rest of El Grupo, she made a wonderful tribute to the South American culture that inspired much of her work.

In 1964, Walt Disney also asked Mary Blair to be part of another project that can still be seen in the Magic Kingdom today. The project was a pavilion for the New York’s World’s Fair and would be made for Pepsi and UNICEF. It would celebrate the children of the world. The attraction build team was led by the early Imagineers (then known as WED) Rolly Crump and Marc Davis. Mary Blair was brought in to help design the attraction. As the project was finishing up, Walt himself asked the Sherman Brothers (writers of many great Disney songs) to write a song for the attraction. The song title would then become the name for the entire attraction. After the World’s Fair, the attraction was moved to Disneyland and then it was an original attraction in the Magic Kingdom when it opened on October 1, 1971. The Attraction, It’s a Small World. If you look at the children and a color of It’s a Small World, and compare them to the colors and design of the mural in the Contemporary Resort, you can see the similarities. This is of course because of Mary Blair’s style, created in South America during a trip in 1941.

So, now you know, in 1941 Walt Disney and a group of handpicked cameramen, musicians, story tellers and artists went to South America as a Goodwill trip for the United States Government. The influences of that trip are still creating Magical Experiences today in the Walt Disney World Resort. So even if you don’t think of South America the next time you ride It’s a Small World, you can thank the people of Chile, Argentina, and Brazil for the attraction.

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